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Originally published Sunday, February 5, 2012 at 5:00 AM

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Book review

'Three Messages': Mexican stories of the fantastic

"Three Messages and a Warning" collects contemporary Mexican short stories of the fantastic, with magical realism, science fiction and other fantasy in the mix.

Special to The Seattle Times

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'Three Messages and a Warning: Contemporary Mexican Short Stories of the Fantastic'

Edited by Eduardo Jiménez Mayo and Chris N. Brown

Small Beer Press, 272 pp., $16

What has Latin American magic realism done for you lately? Jorge Luis Borges' fabulous collection "Labyrinths" first appeared in English decades ago. Several authors have made longstanding contributions to the magic realist canon since then, but for the freshest of wonders turn to "Three Messages and a Warning: Contemporary Mexican Short Stories of the Fantastic" .

This anthology contains 34 stories; all but one of them were originally published after 2000, and most in the past two years. All were written by Mexican-born authors. All are short, and some are extremely short, lasting no more than three or four pages. They range in tone from delirious to grim, and exhibit various attitudes toward the marvelous intrusions into the mundane which they recount: embarrassed and regretful, slyly ambiguous, reluctantly accepting, prosaic. They occupy the memory stubbornly, insisting on their own eccentric logics, powered by the writers' dark or shining visions, steered via authorial voices that can be disarmingly direct, cuttingly ornate, or deceptively quiet.

In "Lions," by Bernardo Fernández, wild beasts gradually dispossess a cityful of humans, ousting them first from their green belts, then from a few streets, then entire neighborhoods. "Murillo Park" by Agustín Cadena brings to dusty life the erotic inner longings of a boy grown to become a bitter man. Sidestepping obvious nostalgia with charming languor, Cadena evokes the reawakened past through accurate yet glowingly backlit descriptions — for instance, the impossibly embodied object of the hero's childhood passion "dressed elegantly and had a large bosom, with stretch marks, which glittered in the sun."

Hauntings, and the conflation of the natural with the supernatural, are hallmarks of magic realism in "One Hundred Years of Solitude," "Like Water for Chocolate" and many of the movement's important works. But "Three Messages" includes science fictional stories among the fantasies and sets nonscientific myths and legends in today's technological landscapes; sometimes it blurs genres in other ways. In Ana Clavel's updating of centuries-old doppelgänger tales, the title story's narrator sends his enemy "Three Messages and a Warning in the Same Email." The fluorescent fingernails of the heroine of "The Hour of the Fireflies" by Karen Chacek reveal her laboratory origin. Edmée Pardo's "1965" recounts the disappearance of two women entranced by Viking 1's close-ups of Mars. Both "Photophobia" by Mauricio Montiel Figueiras and Liliana V. Blum's "Pink Lemonade" take place after the world ends: Figueiras shows us a vampiric celebration of civilization's nuclear annihilation, and Blum focuses on a woman surviving precariously amid the rubble of the failure of modern agriculture.

An introduction by well-known science fiction author Bruce Sterling points out the close relationship between the U.S. and Mexico. Epigrams selected from works by Margaret Atwood, J.M. Coetzee and Fernando Pessoa underscore the country's ever-evolving connections to international literature. Read "Three Messages" to learn how enjoyably strange our near and supposedly familiar neighbor can be, to see firsthand why the cognoscenti prize some of its authors' odder views of the world, and to reaffirm that these views are even now being constantly renewed.

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