Anthony Lee Head’s “Driftwood: Tales from the Margarita Road,” is a loosely structured novel set in the fictional Playa Paraiso (Paradise Beach) on the Yucatan Peninsula in the Mexican Caribbean.
The book follows expatriate Poppa through a series of short stories that detail the lives of other expats, locals and the omnipresent tourists.
Individually, the stories function as finely detailed character studies, at times funny, at other times quite poignant.
Taken as a whole, the stories provide insight into the expat experience in Mexico and life on the Margarita Road.
Head coined the phrase Margarita Road and defines it as “…the course your heart sets when you want to leave the past behind and start over someplace new and warm.” (p. 14)
The characters in the “Driftwood” stories are all on their own private Margarita Road. There is Lenny, who in “Lenny’s Second Coming” has escaped the constraints and illegality of his life as an accountant.
Lenny embezzled money from his clients to sustain a marriage that eventually failed.
Now calling himself the Skipper, Lenny embraces his new life with a passion he never knew he had.
Unfortunately, he also embraces using and selling cocaine and marijuana, much to the chagrin of the local police.
There are Tom and Eddie, featured in “The Great Beer Commercial War.”
Tom has left behind a high-powered yet unsatisfying career as an ad exec in New York to become a bar owner in Playa Paraiso, while Eddie has left behind his own high-powered career as a trial attorney in Chicago to become a bar owner.
The two form a friendship. That friendship is strained when a producer comes to town, looking for the perfect bar to portray “paradise” in an upcoming music video.
However, what could have been a somber look at the effects competition has on friendship takes a humorous and satisfying turn.
By far, the most poignant and memorable story is “The Old Man in the Sea,” which features a 30-year-old grouper, who appears to join Poppa for an early-morning swim.
As the two make their way through the water, Poppa worries about the fish being so close to shore, and then finds himself speculating on the life the fish has lived.
Never heavy-handed, “The Old Man in the Sea” serves as an allegory for the expatriates in Mexico, specifically Poppa.
“Driftwood” is a satisfying read on all levels. The characters are fully developed. The location is richly detailed.
And the plot, which initially I thought was nonexistent, actually is a perfect recreation of the expatriate lifestyle Head writes about: languid and meandering.
Always taking time to note the white sand, the turquoise water, the taste of the rum and tequila.
(Maureen Cooke has been writing, editing and teaching others to write for the past 30 years. She’s a member of the Corrales Writers’ Group.)