by Joseph Hergesheimer. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 1926. 12mo. viii+326 pp. $2.50.
IN choice of materials, in atmosphere, in the character of his women, Hergesheimer has been
compared to Joseph Conrad. It is true that there are sentences in Java Head that might have been written and whole scenes that might have been imagined by the Pole. But in Tampico the choice of subject alone likens Hergesheimer to the greater artist. If one could list the furnishings of a book as one does of a house, one would find in Tampico every requisite property for a Mexican novel. There are the tropic sea, the ancient halfIndian, half-Spanish city, the oil fields, the buccaneering American who takes oil out of the ground by putting Indian blood into it, the dark politics of petroleum; self-made generals, raids, bribes, cries for intervention; the bright Latin atmosphere; passion and intrigue, and Indian dancers with camellias in their hair and steel knives in their garters. All these and more are between boards in Tampico, but one is not wholly happy about it. Perhaps because the author seems to be saying, , I have given you your Mexican money’s worth!’
Govett Bradier, an American, passionately devoted to oil, returns to Mexico after malaria and a year in New York. He is ambitious and faultlessly ruthless. He loves Vida, the wife of the manager of some large oil properties, and is in turn loved by the loyal and fearless Teresita, dancer at the Café Bolivar. Mysteriously the oil fields of Vida’s husband are singled out for attack by the superbandit, General Melchor Rayón, and the Rayónistas. Why? Bradier begins the double task of finding out and thus restoring the damaged reputation of the husband, while coolly laying plans for abducting the wife. Here is a plot surely from which one might expect dramatic conclusion and climax of the first order. Yet the dénouement is definitely less interesting than the opening or middle chapters. The action plot crumbles, and the psychological one that succeeds it is n’t rich or mature enough to satisfy.
The characters of Tampico, which include the narrow, cruel, and loyal Indian girl, the oil buccaneer, a bandit general, a metallic and fashionable woman, and her transplanted New York husband, are admirable first drafts. So admirable that it is disappointing to find them now and then speaking a made-up dialogue, where the author’s need displaces the character’s personality.
Hergesheimer knows Mexico. The theme moves familiarly from Tampico cafés to the oil fields of the interior, from a cantina at Zacamixtle to the cabin of an oil tanker, but somehow the vision is blurred. I think it is because the author, pushing on his story and his immense apparatus of Mexican properties at breakneck speed, uses the general word where he might have taken the particular, the middle-of-the-way phrase when time and mellowed feeling would have given the poignant and perfect one.
Evidence of power is here, but though the author had at his hand the elements of a fine book his performance can hardly be considered firstrate.