Thursday, August 6, 2020

Hurricane Season, by Fernanda Melchor

New Directions, 2020
originally published 2016 as Temporada de huracanes
translated by Sophie Hughes
207 pp


The discovery of a corpse floating in an irrigation canal near a small rural village opens this most harrowing novel.  The person known as "the Witch" has been killed;  the question of who is responsible and why is asked and answered here, but it quickly becomes apparent that this book is not just a simple murder mystery.  In Hurricane Season, the author explores the hopelessness and the violence that plagues this small village as well as the myriad forces that shape and perpetuate it.

  The narratives of four different but interconnected characters living in the village of La Matosa form the very core of this book, moving the story forward (although not always in linear fashion)  from their various vantage points.  Each one takes us somewhat closer to the crime as well as to an understanding of the character of the Witch herself.  It is telling that she remains voiceless here while her presence remains central to everything.  Since these stories happen to build from one another however,  any certainty you may have gained from one person is quickly shaken as seeds of doubt begin to creep into your mind with the next, often changing your perspective and understanding. Yet as they relate what they know (or think they know) about the Witch and events that may have led to her murder, taken together these accounts paint a grim picture of a more collective reality of life in the village of La Matosa, a place one character refers to as "the ass end of nowhere," a place where the inhabitants  have been passed by, ignored or forgotten on many levels.    What we find in their lives reveals much about these people, especially  their dreams of escape from a hopeless future while stuck in a society where abandonment, poverty, misery, and violence of all sorts never seem to end.   What's more, the institutions that could make a difference don't seem to work here:  families break down,  religion and superstition mingle into one and neither the government nor the law bring any sort of justice.

I have opted not to detail any of the plot since the less a potential reader knows about what happens here the better.  What I will say is that as truly bleak as it is,  I thought this novel was brilliant and unflinchingly honest on so many levels, and that as the dustjacket blurb says, the author did manage to "extract some tiny shred of humanity from these characters" that leaves room for empathy and understanding.  More importantly, the novel underscores a number of ongoing horrors plaguing parts of Mexico, including narcotrafficking, homophobic prejudice and violence, and especially femicide.

 I read an article about Hurricane Season a few days ago in which the author is quoted as saying about this book (you'll have to trust my translation here):
"Of course, it's a love novel, only the characters never find it. It's something you lack so much that you don't even know what's it like. And even if they find it, it doesn't matter, because what good if everyone is drowning, it's all fucked up."
Reading Hurricane Season made me very uncomfortable for a number of reasons, two of which I'll name. First, there's an overwhelming sense of hopelessness that pervades this book, and I'm left with the feeling that the future holds little resolution to the underlying problems that exist in La Matosa leaving things to continue on as usual.   Second, while I loved the writing style, the language is just brutal and raw; the author doesn't hesitate to use some pretty foul words and her portrayal of heartbreaking sexual abuse is just downright ugly.   Then again, I had to ask myself how someone could otherwise write a book that captures "the brutal force of male vice,"  rage that doesn't quit, and the sense of it all being so "fucked up," and I couldn't come up with an answer.