The Old Gringo

by Carlos Fuentes. Farrar Straus & Giroux, $14.95. We have in this novel a fastidious American governess stranded in Rancho Villa’s revolution, where she attracts the erotic interest of an intellectual fellow countryman and a nature-boy Mexican general. On this inanely trite foundation Mr. Fuentes has erected a narrative of brilliant complexity and sophistication, describing brisk military action and philosophically contrasting national character, or social tradition, or styles of revolt, or regional strengths, weaknesses, and prejudices. He resembles a juggler whirling a dozen balls in the air at once. The book is fascinating both for what the author does and for how he does it.