Content warnings: rampant homophobia and sexism
From NPR’s review:
Brutality abounds, and the violence, often directed at women and gay people, is so close to real events that it almost qualifies as nonfiction.
This is not an easy book to read, for multiple reasons. The first and most obvious reason is clear when you open the book and start getting a few pages in–you’ll quickly flip through and realize that yes, there is not a single paragraph break to be seen. Melchor has taken the verbosity of Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy and made it her own, demanding the reader’s attention and refusing to let us breath or look away for even a moment. I naturally use some techniques popularized by speed reading adherents–constantly moving my eyes from sentence to sentence, reading the first/last/middle of a paragraph in that order when I feel my attention flagging–but there is no room for any such shortcuts here.
Unreliable narrators, shifting third/first/third voices, tonal shifts that are as violent as the events they describe–there’s no tool that Melchor leaves out in crafting this murder noir, in trying to get you to understand the world in which her characters live. To circle back to the quote, this book is fiction but Melchor has a real world full of hurt to draw from, insults and patterns of abuse that are all the more stifling since we know that they exist, in multitudes, outside of her mind. Is it too much? It was, for me, as my cup had already runneth over, but novels are not written only for me. This novel, in particular, was explicitly not written for me who does not read Spanish. That Melchor expects her readers to keep up with her litany of horrors is, in and of itself, yet another weight bearing down on the village and its residents who are hunched over.
But I’ll double down on the idea of this novel being “too much” because I’m not sure what I’m meant to take away from it. The juxtaposition of whodunit/plot with more “this is how life is” passages is confusing, because you usually get one or the other. Melchor straddles that divide, giving you a murder mystery that is meant to draw you into the surrounding community and never let you leave.