Rough Guide 

Travel Advisory: Stories of Mexico, by David Lida (William Morrow). Cloth, $24.

AS THE TITLE warns, Travel Advisory: Stories of Mexico is a collection of short stories about tourist nightmares south of the border. Although the tales depict a variety of scenes and situations and appear to have been written over an extended period of time, with only a few exceptions they share a striking feature: someone gets raped. First-time author David Lida's premise seems to be that setting foot in Mexico eroticizes the gringo mind, and debauchery or disaster is soon to follow.

For their part -- except for waiters, mariachis, domestic servants and beggars, who uniformly drop their gaze obsequiously -- the Mexicans are a bad lot. They may have peso devaluation, systemic corruption, or North American cultural insensitivity as excuses, but they're gonna getcha; it's going to hurt or humiliate, or both. There's little comfort to be found in the fact that, as Lida depicts them, they treat one another the same way, or that the gringos in these tales aren't very nice either.

Actually, one suspects that Lida likes Mexico and knows the country and its people better than this, but that in seeking to imbue his stories with pace, conflict and resolution, he simply doesn't have much range of imagination or insight to draw upon. Many of his characters even look alike -- and the bald-headed men who keep popping up bear an uncanny resemblance to the author in the dust jacket's photo. This is a common enough problem, but most writers afflicted with it turn to journalism or criticism, rather than fiction.

That said, many of the observed details of scene or situation in these stories are vividly reported, and assure immediate recognition by anyone who has been a gringo tourist in Mexico. The pleasure of the familiar in such a case is to incite memory.

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