'Hurricane Season' by Fernanda Melchor
'They called her the Witch, the same as her mother...'—Review #153
My friends, please know that I love you all, and I hope you’re either enjoying or blissfully ignoring Valentine’s Day today. I had my heart set on Fernanda Melchor’s ‘Hurricane Season’ since last year, when, like Raven Leilani’s ‘Luster,’ it was practically everywhere among bookfluencers. My expectations were high not only because of the hype, or because it was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and longlisted for the National Book Award, but also because it was published by Fitzcarraldo Editions, a U.K. publishing house that always seems attached to critically acclaimed work. I’m obsessed with its blue-and-white cover-design aesthetic. You may remember I asked Donna to snag a copy of Olga Tokarczuk’s ‘Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead’ on her last trip to London before the pandemic because I had to have the Fitzcarraldo edition. And although an American edition of ‘Hurricane Season’ is available from New Directions, I had to have it in blue and white.
Here’s the cover:
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To explain the plot of this novel would give away too much, and I don’t want to ruin its twists and surprises. But here are a few basics: A witch has been found murdered in a small Mexican town. We learn how and why the murder happened through the narration of several characters—including a 13-year-old girl who’s run away from home and a nosy neighbor with a vendetta—who are either involved in or witnesses to the crime. But this is no murder mystery. Rather, it’s an exploration of the darkness, fear and base sexual urges contained in the human soul and how they can be projected onto others with deadly consequences. The story is intense, and, like ‘Almanac of the Dead,’ it needs just about every trigger warning there is, so:
Once you start a chapter, there is no escape: Each is one massive block of text. There are no paragraphs or any other breaks until the chapter ends. The sentences are long and relentless, which further prevents you from looking away for fear of missing a word or clause indicating that the narrator has shifted midway through from recounting the past to the present. ‘Hurricane Season’ is a master class of punctuation and structure. Reading it reminded me of the last time I was on a roller coaster, specifically that moment when the security apparatus clicks into place, and you know you’re locked in until the ride is over like:
I’ve said in other reviews that I love when authors play with text or grammar rules to jolt you out of your reading comfort zone and make a point. Through the lack of text breaks, it’s as if Melchor is holding our head in place, forcing us not only to pay close attention to what the characters are saying and doing, but also to focus intensely on the hate, fear and violence we see in society and in ourselves, like:
Again, I’m sorry for not going into more detail about the story, but I really don’t want to give much away. I went into this book cold, and so should you. I came away loving it. It’s dark, intense and brilliant, and I am excited to read more of Melchor’s work. ‘Hurricane Season’ isn’t for everyone, but if you’re up for a powerful and unflinching novel, you should read it.
How it begins:
They reached the canal along the track leading up from the river, their slingshots drawn for battle and their eyes squinting, almost stitched together, in the midday glare. There were five of them, their ringleader the only one in swimming trunks: red shorts that blazed behind the parched crops of the cane fields, still low in early May. The rest of the troop trailed behind him in their underpants, all four caked in mud up to their shins, all four taking turns to carry the pail of small rocks they’d taken from the river that morning: all four scowling and fierce and so ready to give themselves up for the cause that not even the youngest, bringing up the rear, would have dared admit he was scared, the elastic of his slingshot pulled taught in his hands, the rock snug in the leather pad, primed to strike anything that got in his way at the very first sign of an ambush, be that the caw of the bienteveo, perched unseen like a guard in the trees behind them, the rustle of leaves being thrashed aside, or the whoosh of a rock cleaving the air just beyond their noses, the breeze warm and the almost white sky thick with ethereal birds of prey and a terrible smell that hit them harder than a fistful of sand in the face, a stench that made them want to hawk it up before it reached their guts, that made them want to stop and turn round. But the ringleader pointed to the edge of the cattle track, and all five of them, crawling along the dry grass, all five of them packed together in a single body, all five of them surrounded by blow flies, finally recognized what was peeping out from the yellow foam on the water’s surface: the rotten face of a corpse floating among the rushes and the plastic bags swept in from the road on the breeze, the dark mask seething under a myriad of black snakes, smiling.
‘Hurricane Season’ by Fernanda Melchor was published by Fitzcarraldo Editions in 2020. Translated from the Spanish by Sophie Hughes. 226 pages. $15.59 at Bookshop.org.
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Before you go:
Thanks for the shoutouts! I was so excited to see Substack interview our friend Jennifer Billock who writes the terrific KitchenWitch newsletter. But I was wonderfully surprised and flattered to see her mention Books on GIF! Thank you so much, Jennifer! We got many new subscribers! Also, I was happy to find a mention of BoG on ‘The Pitch of Discontent.’ Its writer, Owen Morawitz, says that BoG has ‘such a great premise that I’m personally enraged for not thinking of it first.’ Ha! Thank you, Owen!
Read this: This tweet thread features a video game based on the classic ‘Street Fighter’ that replaces Ryu, Chun-Li and the other fighters with New York-based writers. ‘Street Writer’ is hilarious. The characters fight in such New York literary places as KGB Bar and Housing Works Bookstore. They should do this for book reviewers! Take a look:
Thanks for reading, and thanks especially to Donna for editing this newsletter!
Until next time,