Noe Valley Voice June 2007

The Virgin's Guide to Mexico

A quick tour of Eric B. Martin's latest novel

With a title like The Virgin's Guide to Mexico, Eric B. Martin's new book is bound to turn the heads of more than a few bookstore patrons. Although it might appear to be a travel guide, it is actually a work of fiction.

Published last month on Cinco de Mayo by MacAdam/Cage, Martin's third novel is about a "homely, Harvard-bound teenager who runs away to Mexico City disguised as a boy, with her rich Mexican mother and all-American father chasing behind." That's the author's thumbnail sketch. But Martin also describes the book like this: "In some ways, it's a wild road-novel romp with border whorehouses, wild pigs, rock 'n' roll markets, subway chases, and crazy scenes in luxury hotels. On a deeper level, it's about what Americans hope to find in Mexico, and what Mexicans hope to find in the U.S., and what happens when these hopes collide with a reality that is both much worse and much richer than they could have dreamed."

The former Noe Valley resident--he, his wife, and two children now live a few blocks east at Mission and Cesar Chavez--worked on the book during a five-year period both in San Francisco and while spending time in Mexico City right after 9/11.

"There I fell in with a group of young Mexican writers who were taking more risks than anyone I'd read before," Martin says.

The main character of Virgin's Guide to Mexico is also a risk-taker. In the excerpt from the book that follows, Alma Price, a 17-year-old from Austin, Tex., has fled her home and crossed the border into Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. Soon after she enters the country, some kids rob her, and she bravely chases them to the parking lot of a rough bar. While she manages to scare them off, as she collects her stolen goods, she turns around and finds out that she is not alone. It's this tense encounter that inspires her to later disguise herself as a boy, a disguise she maintains throughout the rest of her journey.

--Olivia Boler

Excerpt from The Virgin's Guide to Mexico by Eric B. Martin

Backlit, their faces dark, five men stand spaced apart like gunslingers, their long distorted shadows thrown by streetlight to her feet. She stands up straight and clasps both hands in front of her, hoping her voice holds.


No one hears her. No one cares. They've reached the perimeter where her spilled luggage begins, picking items up like carrots, shaking them triumphant in the air. A man with clipped hair and dark blue jeans leans down to grab her sweatshirt and instead tips over, falling heavily on his side. He rolls onto his back snorting like a happy hog and stretches out his arms and lies there peacefully contemplating sky. His friends roar. On a scale of one to ten, she's about to shit her pants.

You need to take care of your things, my love, says a guy in a yellow cap. He holds out one big fist and opens it. The thick fingers curl back, and a pair of Crayola red panties bloom in his palm like an exotic flower. He waits for her but she doesn't move.

You got the wrong girl, she whispers.

Your pretty things, Yellow says. Splays his fingers through the elastic, a childhood cat's cradle, keeping his eyes on her all the while. So little for a big girl like you. They both stare at the red underwear as if it's a crystal ball. You don't want to lose them. Why don't we make a trade?

Please, she says. Please don't.

A fair trade. Give me. Yellow stares at her belt. He has clear ideas where this is headed, but then his buddy comes to life, reaching out one doughboy arm and plucking the panties gently from his friend, grinning like electroshock. The big man brings the red panties to his nose and presses them against his face, inhaling deeply. He holds the panties out in front of him and lets out a big hum before he stretches out the waistband and snaps them on his head like a shower cap. No one makes a noise, no one, not a dog on the block or a star in the sky, not until he yanks them down over his face like a wrestling mask, his eyes bugging from the leg holes, and that's it, that's the last straw, all of them are laughing and staggering like the drunks they are.

She runs.

She runs.

Her undergarments dance and sing as she somehow hits the main street with its lanes of traffic, raises her hand to stop a cab or swear in faith and make all of them, all of Mexico, disappear.

Published with author's permission, from The Virgin's Guide to Mexico by Eric B. Martin (MacAdam/Cage, San Francisco, 2007).


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