Hurricane Season, by Fernanda Melchor

Trigger warnings for physical and sexual abuse of children, and homophobic violence and language.

I don’t know why I finished reading Hurricane Season, by Fernanda Melchor (expertly translated by Sophie Hughes). This literary mystery set in southern Mexico contains many upsetting passages of frankly pornographic sex and anti-gay language and violence. I started skipping things as I got further into the book. I guess, in the end, I stuck it out because I wanted to know more details of the tangle of events that led to the death of a trans woman known only as the Witch, in the poverty-stricken village of La Matosa.

Hurricane Season begins with the discovery of the Witch’s body in an irrigation ditch. This brief chapter is followed by many long, single-paragraph stream of consciousness chapters that dive into the thoughts and histories of other characters who know different pieces of what happened. Although I appreciate Melchor’s skill in recreating what really sounds like all of these characters’ inner monologues, these chapters are physically hard to read. If you lose your place in the long, long paragraphs, it takes effort to find your place again. These chapters are also emotionally hard to read, as characters recount the abuse they’ve suffered or inflicted on others.

The events that led to the Witch’s death slowly form out of those long paragraphs. The Witch, the daughter of the Old Witch, provides cures and curses, but mostly abortions to the local sex workers. She is also the lover of Luismi, a closeted gay man. Curiously, there are a lot of men who have sex with men in La Matosa and its environs who vehemently deny being gay or bisexual. This dynamic and the Witch’s procurement of abortions, drugs, rumors that the Witch’s house contains treasure, and a lot of entitlement all conspire in her murderers’ heads to cause her murder.

I asked myself as I read about the anarchic, ignorant, hedonistic world of La Matosa if the text was reveling in the misery and hopelessness of the characters. I’ve read books in the past that feel like the author kicked over a rock, shone a light, and gleefully described what they saw with plenty of editorializing about the evils of capitalism, drugs, etc.. Melchor doesn’t do that. Instead, it felt like the characters—especially one of the Witch’s murderers—are allowed to damn themselves in their own words. Melchor’s presence is invisible.

And yet, for all Melchor’s brilliant, skillful writing, I would have a hard time recommending Hurricane Season to others. The content of the book is frequently shocking, horrifying, and extremely graphic when it comes to sex. To be blunt, no one in this book makes love; it’s all just fucking. The book is also tightly focused on a handful of characters, so Hurricane Season can’t really serve as a portrait of a place and a time that shows what happens in marginal places with no jobs, no police, no education, and no hope—but plenty of drugs and sex. This book was definitely not for me.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss for review consideration.

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