A childhood case of mastoiditis left Maryse Holder facially marred, but a case of life did more interior damage. Thirty-three, an ex-college teacher of literature, French-born but New York-tough, Maryse entered Mexico for two long stays that seem, in these terrifyingly candid letters, more like penitential exercises than changes of scene. She was obsessed with Mexican men, especially Indians--dark, smooth, thin young men whose macho swinishness was backed with a coarse idolatry of women (not Maryse, other women) that Maryse's feminism could not overrule. In these letters to a New York friend, Maryse is unstinting with reports of her masochism and generalized desire. ""With Arturo, it was a resolution between contempt for me as a gringa whore and awe of me as college professor. (So why did it end the same banal and painful way? He was too inferior to reject me."") Then there's also Eduardo, and Miguel--and dozens of one-night stands in between. ""The nonspecificity of Mexican love is matched only by my own. As they are a single figure for me, I am for them the liberal gringa. . . . They loved not me but the gringa mentality. It is loathsome to be a figure. Yet to love Mexico through figurality is pure romance."" Pure romance is rare in the letters; more common is overeating, overdrinking, catalogues of humiliations, scenes, desperations--""The average woman has 19 out of 20 sordid experiences; I have 1,019""--and a rush of ugly, naked, but usually brilliant perceptions. Maryse Holder was finally killed in Mexico on her second trip, at age 36; you're not at all surprised, after you've read the letters. Her descent, cloacal and self-destructive, was an examination--more Genet than long. She recorded everything, held nothing back, seemed to be her own helpless guardian angel floating above her as she went at the wellsprings of desire. A powerful, disordering book.