When Alex and Elana move from smalltown Virginia to El Paso, they are just a young married couple, intent on a new beginning. Mexican by birth but adopted by white American Pentecostal parents, Alex is hungry to learn about the place where he was born. He spends every free moment across the border in Juárez—perfecting his Spanish, hanging with a collective of young activists, and studying lucha libre (Mexican wrestling) for his graduate work in sociology. Meanwhile Elana, busy fighting her own demons, feels disillusioned by academia and has stopped going to class. And though they are best friends, Elana has no idea that Alex has fallen in love with Mateo, a lucha libre fighter. When Alex goes missing and Elana can't determine whether he left of his own accord or was kidnapped, it's clear that neither of them has been honest about who they are.
Delivered in...measured yet stunning prose. It starts with a repeated phrase, 'they came by way of … ,' which creates a strong musical cadence, guiding the reader through the opening passage like a river current ... This is the terrain of Cormac McCarthy, Pat Mora, Roberto Bolaño, Cristina Rivera Garza and the Mexican poet Jorge Humberto Chávez. Maren’s original descriptions of Ciudad Juárez and El Paso richly add to this literary heritage ... Some of the best-realized parts of the novel describe the intellectual friendships and conversations that develop when Elana and Alex meet a group of Mexican artists who embody a familiar oxymoron: cynical idealists ... Perpetual West is a meditation on a place where the prospect of disappearance and death is a constant fear. The novel is a rebuke to those — especially from the United States — who would romanticize these dangers, or see in the border culture primarily a means of self-discovery. In this respect, Perpetual West is a forceful addition to the literature of the U.S.-Mexican border and its ongoing history of tragedy and joy.
Elana’s search for Alex gives the novel a narrative arc and elevates the tension ... but the heart and soul of Perpetual West dwell in the intersections and conflicts between the psychological struggles of the characters and the frequently staggering cruelty and absurdity of life along the border. Maren is at her best in the minute observation of the culture and rituals of El Paso and Juarez ... The richness and depth of description lends the text authenticity and authority. Mesha Maren is a gifted stylist and a morally serious observer of human frailty. Her intentions are bold, her mastery of language and narrative tension consistently remarkable and occasionally stunning. Simultaneously deep and thrilling, pleasurable and provocative, Perpetual West is a fine next step in the career of a promising talent, as well as a fearless record of a West the world can no longer afford to ignore.
Diving deep into the already fractured relationship between Alex and Elana, Maren has both narrate their triumphs, their fears, and their revelations of the cruelty and beauty of the world around them. Maren employs a sweeping and lyrical narrative voice reminiscent of Sharon Harrigan, Jeffrey Eugenides, and Paulette Jiles and isn’t afraid to let readers sit with the discomfort of addiction, deception, and loss. Immersing readers in areas of Mexico not often seen and peppered with academic inquiries, Perpetual West is nothing short of haunting.