MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewThroughout the nearly 500 pages, the author circles and weaves, at times delectably close to and other times frustratingly distant from the trio at its center: two politically exiled sisters and the man they both love ... When Melvin dives deep into a scene, her prose is sumptuous and visceral; but we don’t stay in these illuminating spaces for long ... Melvin captures these physical aspects of life exquisitely ... As the narrative progresses, though, it fails to consistently illuminate the nuances of each character, as though it does not trust itself, or the reader. Moments of brilliant, evocative detail are watered down by pat phrases that feel like thematic voice over, and then, in case you missed the point, the narrator doubles down and shouts at you again ... Compared to Lali...Pilar and Arturo are less fully drawn ... Set up as the foil to her big sister from the beginning, Pilar never manages to entirely own her motives. Melvin flattens her and never allows the reader close enough to understand why she would fall so suddenly — at first in lust, and then in true love — with a corrupt man who is the father of her sister’s child. Arturo’s chapters are similarly frustrating; and the soap opera-esque twists and turns of the plot (hidden pregnancies, child prostitution) feel like embellishments that only serve to distract from the fascinating themes, both political and personal, that Lali unearths.
PositiveThe Chicago Review of BooksThe most arresting aspects of the novel are the sections narrated by the mother, Sharon. Sickels does a wonderful job of portraying the impact of the AIDS epidemic on families, particularly the mothers and fathers who struggled to accept their children’s sexuality ... ickels is an expert at rendering the lush comfortability of everyday small-town life and the ways that these small comforts become the markers of our passing lives. How, when we realize the fragility of our own bodies, we all cling to the small things. There is of course the boredom and small-mindedness we associate with small-town life, but Sickels also envelopes his very prose with a deep respect for the pleasures of rural America ... Brian’s father, Travis, is in many ways a representation of small-town life incarnate...This depiction of the quiet, hardworking man who nearly disappears into the background, is in many ways quite accurate, but the inclusion of his voice and his perspective throughout more of the novel would have benefited the book immensely. The one chapter where his voice is featured is wonderfully wrought and only made me wish there was more of him ... Additionally, Sickels relies on a device to relay much of Brian’sthoughts and emotions. The conceit is that Brian is videotaping himself, a kind of spoken diary. While interesting at first, this device eventually only served to distance the reader from Brian. We never get his thoughts and feelings as the events play out, we only ever see them in reflection and so they quickly become summary instead of scenes ... a beautifully quiet book, even with all the big subjects that it tackles. What it is most interested in is the pulse of a son, the pulse of a mother, the pulse of a town ... an extended examination of vulnerability and loyalty on both a large and small scale.
Fernanda Melchor, Trans. by Sophie Hughes
RaveThe Southern Review of BooksMelchor tells us a tale as wondrously grotesque and captivating as a Bosch triptych narrated by a raunchy female Cormac McCarthy ... Melchor’s technical skills are wildly impressive. She has crafted single sentences that run effortlessly for up to three entire pages, sliding at times between third and first person in a quicksilver wink at conventions. The prose is lucid, lyrical and seems to take joy in its own construction. Melchor’s craft is the stylistic opposite of the clipped fragments offset by white space that seem to have become so popular since the publication of books like Maggie Nelson’s Bluets and Jenny Offill’s Dept. of Speculation. In all 220 pages of Hurricane Season, there is not a single paragraph break ... Though most of the book is written in a semi-omniscient third person it has the close-to-the-throat feeling of a private confession. The town itself seems to want to vomit out its guilty defense in a torrent as long and muddy as the canal where the body was found. The chapters circle in on themselves, returning to certain key moments and phrases the way that a witness in a trial might track back to a memory and then catch up and push the story forward. The weight of obsession is a current throughout and voice is what carries the reader along ... While McCarthy brought this framework to bear on 19th-century American expansionism and the Mexican-American war, Melchor uses it to illuminate the current state of post-NAFTA globalization that leaves ordinary small-town communities just as vulnerable to modern day scalp-hunters and bloodthirsty capitalists in all their various forms.