Gringos relates the random adventures and misadventures of American Jimmy Burns, a trucker, bounty hunter and expert in (and ex-looter of) Mayan artifacts, as his life in Mexico is complicated by a stalker, kidnapers, criminals, cult followers, archaeologists, and ufo theorists. I would rate my enjoyment of this book between Portis’ The Dog of the South and Masters of Atlantis, though Jimmy is by far my favourite character from the three books.
Imagine a vast ocean of liquid sarcasm completely evaporating and leaving a shoebox worth of bone-dry, crumbly humour and you will get an idea of this book’s style. Masters of Atlantis follows the rise and devolution of the fictional Gnomon Society (the last bastion of Atlantean wisdom), with its narcissistic leaders, shady sidekicks and delusional followers. This book is a remarkably sophisticated and clear-eyed portrayal of humankind’s temptations, weaknesses and failings, presented with lots of sarcastic, dry, deadpan wit.
By all accounts, this book is hilarious, but I did not find it to be so. Perhaps I did not take to it because it is in that rare category: dry American humour. The main character is frighteningly unemotional (think Meursault from Camus’ The Stranger) and this, combined with the first person narrative and crazy cast of supporting characters, gives the book a depressingly surreal feel. I lost interest halfway through and just skimmed through the rest.
This short novel had only been published for one year before John Wayne appeared in a film version of it in 1969. Except for the ending, the book reads like a script for the movie, offering just a little more information and character depth than you can get from watching the film. I enjoyed reading it very much and am looking forward to reading more books written by Portis.