FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

With Elvis in Mexico

One of Spain’s leading writers, Javier Marías, undertakes quite a flight of the imagination in this skinny little novel—technically a long story or novella—Bad Nature, or With Elvis in Mexico. The fact is that Elvis Presley was never in Acapulco—or at least not during the filming of Fun in Acapulco (1963), his thirteenth film, late in his movie career, and totally formulaic (unless you want to cite the presence of Ursula Andress as providing gravitas to the film). The movie was shot in Hollywood, though obviously some exterior scenes were taken on the assumed location.

What Marías has undertaken is a broad re-envision of what might have happened to Elvis had the film been made in Mexico. The narrative is comparable to, say, Philip Roth’s The Plot against America, which speculates what might have happened to the United States if Franklin Delano Roosevelt had not won reelection in 1940. Obviously, Marías’s scope is nothing of the magnitude of Roth’s speculation of an alternate history for that presidential election. But that hardly matters, since Marías’s narrative is just as profound as Roth’s when the issue becomes societal differences: popular culture and cultural narrow-mindedness.

Thus, in Bad Nature Elvis does go to Acapulco for the filming of his musical and to Mexico City as well. And because Elvis knew no Spanish (some people wondered if he even knew English) and because the big number in Fun in Acapulco is the King’s singing of “Guadalajara,” Marías speculates that Elvis needed a language coach. And that language coach, whose last name is Ruibérriz, travels with Elvis and also the entire film crew to act as a translator whenever necessary. The first instance of American ignorance comes early in the story, after Ruibérriz pronounces his name. Everyone on the set calls him Roy Berry because they can’t get the accents right.

Thus Roy is there, trailing the great singer around from place to place, not only translating for him whenever Elvis needs to speak to a local but, more importantly, to get him out of cultural predicaments. We are lead to believe that those incidents are frequent because, as Roy states of Elvis, “He was restless and needed to be doing something all the time.” After a day of shooting, Elvis typically wanted to fly to Mexico City for a little action. During one of these nights in a bar outside of the city with his usual set of followers, Elvis says something he shouldn’t have after one of his flunkies embarrasses himself on the dance floor. Roy, unfortunately, translates Elvis’ remarks literally and that’s when Roy’s own life becomes threatened—instead of Elvis’s.

Up until this incident, Roy has provided quite juicy insights about the famous singer he’s been assisting. If I haven’t already made this clear, Bad Nature is quite a hilarious story, at least until Roy’s life is threatened. Here, for example, is his take on Elvis’ flamboyance: Since Elvis “was a hard and serious and even enthusiastic worker, he couldn’t see how his roles looked from the outside or make fun of them. I imagine it was in the same disciplined and pliant frame of mind that he allowed himself to grow drooping sideburns in the seventies and agreed to appear on stage tricked out like a circus side show, wearing suits bedecked with copious sequins and fringes, bell bottoms slit up the side, belts as wide as a novice whore’s, high-heeled goblin boots, and a short cape—a cape—that made him look more like Super Rat than whatever he was probably trying for. Superman, I would imagine.”

The cultural issues in Bad Nature peel off like the layers of an onion, slowly with a certain number of surprises as they become complications not for the gringos—who are oblivious to their slights and misunderstandings—but to the Mexicans and, most obviously, to Roy Berry, who as a Spaniard and not as a Mexican almost loses his life. And Elvis in all this? And the other gringos? Sadly, what might have been a moment of insight becomes totally lost on them. That is also Javier Marías’ brilliance: swipes at ugly Americans who don’t have a clue about how dangerous the situation is that they have just narrowly avoided.

Bad Nature, superbly translated by Esther Allen, shows us poor judgment with both the Americans and the Mexicans. Sit back and enjoy this little gem during a roller coaster ride of an hour.

Bad Nature, or With Elvis in Mexico
Translated by Esther Allen
New Directions Pearl, 57 pp., $9.95

CHARLES R. LARSON is Professor of Literature at American University, in Washington, D.C.

WORDS THAT STICK

?

 

More articles by:

Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University, in Washington, D.C. Email = clarson@american.edu. Twitter @LarsonChuck.

Weekend Edition
May 25, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
A Major Win for Trump’s War Cabinet
Andrew Levine
Could Anything Cause the GOP to Dump Trump?
Pete Tucker
Is the Washington Post Soft on Amazon?
Conn Hallinan
Iran: Sanctions & War
Jeffrey St. Clair
Out of Space: John McCain, Telescopes and the Desecration of Mount Graham
John Laforge
Senate Puts CIA Back on Torture Track
David Rosen
Santa Fe High School Shooting: an Incel Killing?
Gary Leupp
Pompeo’s Iran Speech and the 21 Demands
Jonathan Power
Bang, Bang to Trump
Robert Fisk
You Can’t Commit Genocide Without the Help of Local People
Brian Cloughley
Washington’s Provocations in the South China Sea
Louis Proyect
Requiem for a Mountain Lion
Robert Fantina
The U.S. and Israel: a Match Made in Hell
Kevin Martin
The Libya Model: It’s Not Always All About Trump
Susie Day
Trump, the NYPD and the People We Call “Animals”
Pepe Escobar
How Iran Will Respond to Trump
Sarah Anderson
When CEO’s Earn 5,000 Times as Much as a Company’s Workers
Ralph Nader
Audit the Outlaw Military Budget Draining America’s Necessities
Chris Wright
The Significance of Karl Marx
David Schultz
Indict or Not: the Choice Mueller May Have to Make and Which is Worse for Trump
George Payne
The NFL Moves to Silence Voices of Dissent
Razan Azzarkani
America’s Treatment of Palestinians Has Grown Horrendously Cruel
Katalina Khoury
The Need to Evaluate the Human Constructs Enabling Palestinian Genocide
George Ochenski
Tillerson, the Truth and Ryan Zinke’s Interior Department
Jill Richardson
Our Immigration Debate Needs a Lot More Humanity
Martha Rosenberg
Once Again a Slaughterhouse Raid Turns Up Abuses
Judith Deutsch
Pension Systems and the Deadly Hand of the Market
Shamus Cooke
Oregon’s Poor People’s Campaign and DSA Partner Against State Democrats
Thomas Barker
Only a Mass Struggle From Below Can End the Bloodshed in Palestine
Binoy Kampmark
Australia’s China Syndrome
Missy Comley Beattie
Say “I Love You”
Ron Jacobs
A Photographic Revenge
Saurav Sarkar
War and Moral Injury
Clark T. Scott
The Shell Game and “The Bank Dick”
Seth Sandronsky
The State of Worker Safety in America
Thomas Knapp
Making Gridlock Great Again
Manuel E. Yepe
The US Will Have to Ask for Forgiveness
Laura Finley
Stop Blaming Women and Girls for Men’s Violence Against Them
Rob Okun
Raising Boys to Love and Care, Not to Kill
Christopher Brauchli
What Conflicts of Interest?
Winslow Myers
Real Security
George Wuerthner
Happy Talk About Weeds
Abel Cohen
Give the People What They Want: Shame
David Yearsley
King Arthur in Berlin
Douglas Valentine
Memorial Day
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail