Ciudades Desiertas is the story of Susana, a female Mexican writer fleeing her home to attend an international workshop in the USA, leaving her husband Eligio behind and completely unaware of her whereabouts. A hot-tempered intellectual with a somewhat cynical and misanthropic sense of humor, he works his way to catch up with his wife, arguing to have only done so to find out why exactly Susana left.
The book's title seems likely derived from the couple's separate observations in regards to the apparent lack of movement around Arcadia, where the workshop takes place. They almost immediately suffer a cultural shock upon their arrival, although they are already well acquainted with the typical American lifestyle. The American residents, with a small town mentality, are depicted as largely more ignorant of the visitors' culture and society; whereas the latter, especially Latin Americans, show a contemptuous reluctancy to try and fit in, perhaps Susana being the most remarkable exception. Throughout their journey, both try to pinpoint their relationship's setbacks, as well as their own flaws.
The two attempt to show a sense of individuality and emotional disattachment from their spouse, each according to their respective point of view. While Eligio tries to make sense out of things, halfway acknowledging the extent of his feelings for his wife, still paradoxically giving in to outbursts of rage on occasions; Susana strains to convey an ideal of utter independence, as she feels the routine of her marriage holds her back. Motivated at first to prove her own self-worth, which she does find, she eventually experiences the certainty of her love for Eligio, in spite of all her efforts to stay away from him.
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