In between writing hugely successful novels, Glendon Swarthout (1918-1992) wrote a short story entitled “Ixion”, set at Lake Chapala. This story was later turned into a screenplay by his son Miles Swarthout as Convictions of the Heart.
Swarthout spent six months in Ajijic in 1951, with his wife Kathryn and their young son, Miles, aged five. According to Miles, the draft of the novel his father was working on at that time, Doyle Dorado, “ended up in the stove, making hot water for Dad’s shower.”
Glendon Swarthout used the setting of Lake Chapala for a later short story, first published in 1958. “Ixion” is the “semi-autobiographical story of a young advertising man attempting to write his first novel in the little artist’s colony of Ajijic.”
It is a tale of the challenging romance between Johnson, a twenty-nine-year-old advertising copywriter from Cleveland attempting to write his first novel, and Irene Temple, aged 35, who left her husband in New York City almost two years ago and absconded to Mexico with their two young daughters, now aged 7 and 6 respectively.
Paraphrasing Miles, “the story’s naive hero” tries to rescue these “two wise-beyond-their-years little girls” from “the neglect of their alcoholic mother”. “The tragic irony in this tale builds to a heartbreaking conclusion as the young writer becomes trapped between his good intentions and his own ineptitude.”
The story is solidly constructed and totally believable, though I find myself agreeing with Miles that it would have been nice if his father had worked “some explanation of the title into the text for those of us who are mythologically uninformed.” In his afterword to Easterns and Westerns, his collection of his father’s stories, Miles succinctly summarized the myth:
Ixion was the mythical Greek king who sought , and imagined he had obtained, the love of Hera, queen of the Olympic deities and wife of Zeus, the father and king of gods and men. When he boasted of his romantic exploit, Ixion was hurled down into Tartarus, a dark abyss beneath the earth where the rebellious titans were punished, and bound to an eternally revolving wheel.”
The setting, Ajijic, is described in the short story as follows:
The name of the town was Ajijic, pronouncing the j’s like h’s. It was on the shore of the biggest lake in Mexico. There were mountains all around the lake, and the bell of the church rang purely during the day and through the night. He came to Ajijic because, being an artist’s colony according to the travel folders, it would have atmosphere.
The main characters in “Ixion” are staying in cottages at the village’s only hotel, the Casa Paraíso:
In the small lobby, a blossoming tree twisted up through a square in the roof into the air, and outside, spaced around a big patio, hidden from each other by banana palms and thickets of bamboo, were eight cottages girt with vines in which nested birds, red and blue, he had never before seen, while from the porch he could watch, through an eye in the vines, the heat of the sun and the high altitude evaporating the surface of the lake constantly into mist. It was easy to imagine monsters lifting hooded heads out of the mist, or the gods of the lake ancient Indians prayed to for fish.”
Among the other characters mentioned in the short story are two artists, Mr. Kahn and Mr. Radimersky, and a poetess named Dorothy Camilla Sugret.
“Ixion” was first published in New World Writing #13 in The New American Library (Mentor, 1958). A contemporary reviewer praised the story as being a “much worthier” work than Swarthout’s second novel, They Came to Cordura, which had been published only a few weeks before. “Ixion” was reprinted in Miles’ collection of his father’s stories, Easterns and Westerns (Michigan State University Press, 2001).
Other twentieth century novels set largely, or entirely, at Lake Chapala include:
- Charles Embree: A Dream of a Throne, the Story of a Mexican Revolt (1900)
- D. H. Lawrence: The Plumed Serpent (1926)
- Arthur Davison Ficke: “Mrs. Morton of Mexico” (1939)
- Ramón Rubín: La canoa perdida: Novela mestiza (1951)
- Ross MacDonald: The Zebra-Striped Hearse (1962)
- Eileen Bassing: Where’s Annie? (1963)
- Barbara Compton: “To The Isthmus” (1964)
- Willard Marsh: Week with No Friday (1965)
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