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THE HOTEL IN THE JUNGLE by Albert J. Guerard


by Albert J. Guerard

Pub Date: June 1st, 1996
ISBN: 1-880909-45-6

The beautifully evoked jungles of southern Mexico are the setting for distinguished critic Guerard's eighth novel (Christine/Annette, 1985, etc.), a story that layers diaries and narratives from three separate time periods—1870, 1922, and the present—to tell of a fabulous Mayan ruin, Casas Grandes, and its nearby dopplegĂ‘nger, a folly in the jungle called the Gran Hotel Balneario Chimalapa. Beginning in 1982 with the arrival of Tulane graduate student Eloise Deslonde, who is tracing the movements of the 19th-century adventuress Rosellen Maurepas for her thesis, ``The Liberated Woman in Antebellum and Postbellum New Orleans,'' the book plunges us into a world of interlocking stories of time-warped passions. We follow Rosellen from her first glimpse, as a teenager, of the dashing mercenary William Walker to her later attempt, in 1870, to determine once and for all whether Walker really died at the hands of a firing squad—or escaped to Casas Grandes. Charles Stanfield, a 20-year-old engineer, accompanies the bewitching Rosellen on her search. Hired to survey the site for a canal linking the Atlantic and the Pacific, Stanfield, instead of doing his job, falls into an idyll with Marita, an Indian girl, while Rosellen disappears among the haunted pyramids. Fifty years later, in 1922, Stanfield will return to the scene, drawn by advertisements for a 45-round bout featuring Jack Johnson, the dethroned black boxer. There, he will pass time with the boxer and his absurd retinue, including the erotic adventuress Monica Swift (based on the feminist poet Mina Loy). There, too, like Rosellen before him, he will disappear. And many years later, Eloise, busy unraveling the record of these lives, will almost vanish as well. For lovers of Mexico, then, a speculative biography of a place where, by paths only a novelist can reimagine, the figures of quite different epochs intersect and interact. At times bewildering and overly dense—like the jungle it evokes—and, in the end, much like the Grand Hotel Balneario itself: haunted, mysterious, beguiling.