Joseph Mark Brewer is best known for his wonderful books featuring Japanese detective Shig Sato. The Gangster’s Son and The Thief’s Mistake are insightful crime thrillers set in 1990’s Japan. I was more than a little surprised with Brewer’s short story in Twisted Tales , “Margarita Mix”. It is a dramatic departure from his usual genre.
The story reads almost like a memoir although it isn’t written in the first person. Beginning with Vincent and his obsession with Julie, the waitress at a local café, the story unwinds like a sinuous snake, slowly hypnotizing the reader. Vincent had avoided the draft thanks to Father Roger who managed to wrangle a freshman scholarship for him to attend a less than prestigious Catholic college. It is apparent Vincent blew the deal and after less than a year he turns his gaze toward Canada where he could dodge the draft. As he makes plans to sell his car, entice Julie to join him (in spite of having a “body builder” boyfriend), and get a Greyhound ticket, and head north, he reminisces about his father.
As he recalls his father’s death he remembers the old man telling him to go to California where they make a cocktail called margarita. It is then that he comes up with a plan to persuade Julie to accompany him. He would prepare a thermos of the magical drink and invite her to meet him at a local pond, and after entreating her to go with him, they would ride off into the sunset.
The story has a wistful flavor, an almost painful reminiscing of events that didn’t go as planned. Perhaps it is Vincent’s isolation and hunger to connect with someone that tugs at the heart. He is looking for something or someone. A small man, like his “jockey” sized father, he was overlooked; a little ginger haired man without friends in a small town, where he didn’t fit in. He is a young man who sets his sights on a girl who responds to his flirting in spite of her big, muscular boyfriend. I had to wonder if Vincent deliberately sets himself up to fail.
I’d like to say the outcome is predictable, but I’m not certain that would be accurate. Like one of John Cheever’s short stories Brewer seems to ache for a past way of life while recognizing the advent of the nomadic and uncertain lives of youth that was developing during the nineteen sixties and the Viet Nam conflict.
This story stands out in the anthology as an insightful examination of the conflicts faced by youth as they struggle to find their place in a complex world. Brewer shows he has a perceptive view of the world and is adept at motivating his readers to share it.