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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


The Crystal Frontier

Carlos Fuentes

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Title: The Crystal Frontier
Author: Carlos Fuentes
Genre: Novel
Written: 1995 (Eng: 1997)
Length: 266 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: The Crystal Frontier - US
The Crystal Frontier - UK
The Crystal Frontier - Canada
The Crystal Frontier - India
Die gläserne Grenze - Deutschland
La frontera de cristal - España
  • Translated by Alfred Mac Adam
  • Spanish title: La frontera de cristal

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Our Assessment:

C : a disappointing and misguided effort, though there are some good ideas there.

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Daily Telegraph B+ 23/5/1998 David Horspool
The Independent C 31/5/1998 Amanda Hopkinson
The LA Times . 26/10/1997 Valerie Miner
New Statesman A 17/7/98 Ra Page
The NY Times Book Rev. C 23/5/1998 Jay Parini
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction A Summer/1998 Kent D. Wolf
The Times B- 24/5/1998 Hugo Barnacle
TLS C+ 5/6/1998 Michael Kerrigan
The Washington Post . 19/10/1997 Annie Proulx
  Review Consensus:

  No consensus about any of it. Some like the writing, some hate it. Some like what he does and how he does it, some hate it.

  From the Reviews:
  • "Fuentes grounds each narrative in uncompromising cultural history, but he elevates his tales with a rich, uninhibited prose and an immediate possession of their characters that acknowledges their individuality as ultimately more important." Ra Page, New Statesman

  • "Hardly a character in these stories rises above caricature. There is also a problem with the dialogue, which is stilted and unreal." Jay Parini, The New York Times Book Review

  • "(D)ressed up with a certain amount of observational wit and a great deal of ludicrous purple prose, essentially his line is that all Americans are vulgar yahoos and all Mexicans are natural aristocrats." Hugo Barnacle, The Times

  • "A sprawling agglomeration of unshapely tales, in themselves often inconclusive and only glancingly connected by character or coincidence, the book forms nevertheless an unmistakable, if uneasy, whole." Michael Kerrigan, Times Literary Supplement

  • "If these figures appear as silhouettes with little depth, if the respective cultures of Mexico and the United States are loaded with such pop tarts as male strippers and Mexican women workers on a night off stuffing the strippers' jockstraps with money, with such icons and brand names as Beavis and Butt-head, L.L. Bean, Taco Bell, Neiman Marcus, Cornell University, if we see nationalisms instead of cultural complexities, if we encounter glass walls and tunnels instead of landscapes, coincidence instead of plot development, it is because such sets and characters suit Fuentes's purpose." - Annie Proulx, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       We admire and respect much of Mr.Fuentes' work, but frankly we were quite baffled by this novel, told in nine stories.
       An excellent idea -- a novel about what Fuentes calls the crystal frontier between the US and Mexico -- it is generally well-written, and some of the stories are not without merit. They are, however, very uneven, and the bad is pretty bad. More disturbing is Fuentes' getting so much of the US wrong, from the tone to the characters to their actions: it is what someone who knows the US only from books would write (and naturally it makes us suspicious about what he writes about Mexico as well). It is an odd and ultimately not worthwhile book.
       Recommended only for those who are absolutely fascinated by the subject matter, or die hard Fuentes fans. He'll win no converts with this one.

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The Crystal Frontier: Reviews: Carlos Fuentes: Other books by Carlos Fuentes under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Mexican author Carlos Fuentes lived 1928 to 2012. Winner of the Venezuelan Romulo Gallegos Prize (for Terra Nostra) and the Cervantes Prize (1997). He has taught at Harvard, Princeton, Brown, and Columbia, among other universities.

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