The latest Flannery O'Connor Award winner brings together 13 highly accomplished stories, only a few of which have been published in small magazines. With a cool eye and a suggestive voice, Mayo offers glimpses of a corrupt and decadent jet-set based mostly in Mexico City. The two stories that frame the collection provide alternate versions of Mexican society: the first, ``Chabela del Rio...,'' is told by an aging, thrice-married woman of glamour, the daughter of the former ambassador to the Court of St. James, who, in her anecdotage, remembers the splendors of her international life. The last, ``Rainbow's End,'' deflates Chabela's high-flown account; her third husband, a low-born peasant who's made his fortune from the graft bestowed by his politician brother, tries to satisfy his classy wife, though he's aware of her contempt for his vulgarity. Overall, Mayo's largely impressionistic Latin tales have the brittle, snapshot qualities of, say, Joan Didion's fiction. ``Tzintzuntzan,'' for example, is a profile of a Mexico City banker's wife on the verge of a nervous breakdown. The downside of South American life is reflected in the title piece, in which two political prisoners imagine the life of their jailer off the job. ``Coyote Don't Bite'' is the self-portrait of a hustler whose slangy patter barely masks his misery. The macabre tale of a buffoonish African dictator, ``What Fish This Fish?,'' is somewhat diminished by its familiarity (think Theroux, Naipaul, etc.). Meanwhile, the few stories set in the US are appropriately cynical in tone—a young couple gets caught in a snowstorm while skiing; an unmarried New York yuppie meets up with an old hippie friend; and a contemporary Eloise wanders around a fancy resort spa, her only friend a dapper gay gentleman. The observed details and refracted style here define a talent worth attending to: a distinctive debut.
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