Book Notes: Fernanda Melchor’s Hurricane Season

A masterpiece.

Thanks to this book, year 2020 won’t be the year of COVID or lockdowns for me. I will remember it as the year when I discovered Fernanda Melchor.

I thought nobody could displace Horacio Castellanos Moya from my pantheon of favorite authors. And don’t get me wrong, I still love him. But Fernanda Melchor is so impossibly good that I feel like I’ve been hit over the head with a sack of gold dust. I had to pause my reading many times because the pleasure of reading something so good was hard to bear.

If you read in Spanish, please, do yourself a favor and read this book. If not, remember that there is an English translation. The delicious Mexican slang will be lost to you but it’s still better than nothing.

This isn’t a happy, cheery novel. This is Mexican literature, which invariably means it’s devastating. And with what Mexico has become, today its literature is particularly so. If you remember my post about the hourglass metaphor, Melchor’s book is about people who have no lower bulb at all. The result is a realist novel that’s scarier than anything I’ve ever read in the horror genre. Remember that old movie where an alien invades an astronaut’s body and then rips out through the chest? That’s what Melchor’s characters are but without the sci-fi aspect.

It truly was worth learning Spanish and reading books in Spanish for 20 years just to be able to find this novel.

P.S. After writing this post, I went on Twitter to express my love for this phenomenal writer. And what did I discover? Well, that’s obvious. She’s been chased off Twitter by the woke mob for an un-PC tweet.

The book still exists, though. And it’s waiting for you.

Book Notes: Leonardo Padura’s Dust in the Wind

Padura is the most famous writer currently living in Cuba, and as they say, beggars cannot be choosers. Everybody who’s any good left the island a long time ago, and Padura is what’s left.

And it’s not that he’s bad. There is a story that he’s trying to tell, and it’s often quite good. But sweet Lord in heaven, is he ever so wordy. The novel could lose 400 pages and gain massively in focus.

The intrigue at the heart of the novel hinges on a group of very educated people, one of whom is a doctor of medicine, not knowing that condoms don’t give a 100% guarantee from pregnancy. They spend nearly three decades in inane dialogues that go like this:

“Who is Adela’s father?”
“I don’t know. Wasn’t me. I used a condom.”
“Who was it then?”
“No clue. I used a condom.”
“Did it break?”
“Does that ever happen? Do condoms break?”
“I don’t know. But who’s Adela’s father? Did you say you used a condom?”

The novel actually isn’t a critique of the condom industry. It’s about exile and all of the Cubans who left the country. By the end of the book, you begin to feel like you now know every detail of the life of every Cuban who has ever left. Or stayed.

Again, it’s not all bad. I enjoyed large chunks of it. But at the end of the novel there’s this horse who’s very old and tired and needs to be put out if its misery. I identified with the horse a lot because it did feel like the blasted novel would never end. The only thing that kept me going was knowing what a funny post I’d write about it.

Book Notes: Ramon Saizarbitoria’s Miren and Romanticism

Uy. Uyuyuyuyuy. What a terrible book, goodness gracious me.

Ramon Saizarbitoria is one of the world’s greatest living writers. His novel Martutene is one of the defining experiences of my life. I can’t find words to explain what that book means to me.

There was no chance I was going to enjoy Miren and Romanticism, though. It’s what they call a “young adult” novel, and it’s definitely not meant for middle-aged literary critics like myself. Even as a young adult I would have despised it. But we were a cynical generation. Who knows, today’s 17-year-olds in the prosperous Basque Country might just be retarded slow innocent enough to take this kind of book seriously.

Let me explain. Miren is a 17-year-old Basque girl who is in love with Said, a 17-year-old boy who’s a child of immigrants from Morocco. Said is so good, virtuous and perfect that’s he’s like the second coming of Jesus. But some people are racist. And that’s sad. You shouldn’t be racist. You should be anti-racist. Because racism is bad. Good people aren’t racist. And perfect people are like Said. The end.

The reason why a truly great writer wastes his time on this kind of crap is that Saizarbitoria pretty much founded the entire Basque literature. It exists now but only because he invented it. There’s no Basque YA novel, and somebody has got to create it. And when you are in a tiny literature in a really tiny language, there’s not many options as to who it will be.

I urgently need a great reading experience to eliminate the terrible aftertaste. And no, the book hasn’t been translated, and consider yourselves lucky you can’t read it.

Movie Notes: Hillbilly Elegy

I liked the book more, to be honest, but it’s a good, solid movie. I have no idea what all the fuss is about and why people are making it about Trump. There’s not a shade of anything political in the movie.

The part I didn’t like is what makes it a typical Hollywood film and not a work of art. It’s the part about the exceptional one-in-a-million striver who overcomes and gets ahead through hard work. I understand that the movie is biographical, and this is truly what happened to JD Vance. I deeply admire him. But the movies about exceptional strivers abound. I’ve seen a million of them. What I’d like to see is a movie about the unexceptionable, the run of the mill, the regular. I’m interested in their lives.

But this is typical Hollywood. A predictable, saccharine mold that turns everything into a sappy soap opera. In other countries, filmmakers know how to make movies about normal people but in the US it never happens anymore.

Within the genre of Hollywood movies, Hillbilly Elegy is great. Everybody except for the guy playing JD as an adult is s very good actor. The actors all look eerily like the people they are playing. Glenn Close is amazing but we always knew that.

There is a scene at a fancy dinner at Yale early in the movie that’s a terrible cliche and deathly boring but once you get past that, it gets a lot better.

That this extremely typical Hollywood movie suddenly got so controversial because it’s based on the book by somebody who is conservative shows how crazy people have become. It’s gotten so nuts that I’ve seen people seriously debate whether the portrayal of Kentucky fauna in the film is true to life.

Not everything is political, folks. This is a movie about growing up in an abusive, dysfunctional, chaotic household. The book does make an effort to draw conclusions about society and history. But the movie isn’t about that at all.

P.S. Here is what I wrote about the book back when I was a passionate Hillary supporter.