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'Memories' spread like thin sheets

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Any writing from Nobel Prize-winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez is an event. The Colombian-born author wrote one of the great literary masterpieces of the past century, One Hundred Years of Solitude.

Unfortunately, Memories of My Melancholy Whores, his first work of fiction in a decade, is pretty thin, and a real letdown compared with his brilliant autobiography, Living to Tell the Tale, published in 2003.

Set in La Paz, Bolivia, Memories is narrated by an old man who has spent his life paying for love. By age 50 he has slept with 514 prostitutes. To celebrate his 90th birthday, he calls up an old and trusted madam, asking her to procure a virgin. She haggles, sets a price and finds a 14-year-old girl.

After a lifetime of sex without affection, something blooms within his heart as he watches the alluring and exhausted child sleep. He experiences joy, jealousy, fantasy and love. Moreover, he reflects on past infatuations and liaisons.

There are elements of magical realism, and, of course, Garcia Marquez's writing is spectacular, resonate and wildly erotic.

But the narrator never comes alive. Only when Garcia Marquez writes about death's approach does the novel's pace and prose seem to quicken to the old magic.

Better to reread Garcia Marquez's Love in the Time of Cholera, say, than this tale.

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© Copyright 2004 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

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