Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Intelligent, beautiful, talented Noemi adores her glamorous life in 1950s Mexico City, but misses her cousin, Catalina, who was quickly and scandalously married a few months ago. After Catalina’s marriage, she moved to the countryside to live in her new husband’s family home, High Place, and Noemi hasn’t heard from her since. When Noemi’s father receives a letter from a seemingly psychotic Catalina, he sends Noemi for a visit to check in on Catalina’s health. Although High Place and its residents appear unwelcoming and odd, Noemi is happy to be able to visit Catalina and try to understand why Catalina wanted to marry this mysterious husband. What begins as a simple visit quickly turns into a nightmare for Noemi and all the residents of High Place. Who can Noemi trust? What has made Catalina so ill? And can Noemi and Catalina escape High Place alive?
Although Mexican Gothic begins in an unassuming Gothic way, with a psychotic cousin and a haunted house, the book slowly turns until you are completely snatched from reality and cannot put the book down. Until the end, I couldn’t figure out which of the creepy characters were trustworthy or even which scenes were reality. The atmosphere and setting of this book were remarkably vibrant; I could picture High Place and each of its residents in full disgusting detail. While the book may begin slowly, and some readers may be tempted to put it down after the first 50 pages, this one was worth sticking it out for me and many others.
This is definitely a horror novel, and some readers may need content warnings for sexual assault, suicide, domestic abuse, incest, hallucinations, murder and gore, cannibalism, eugenics, death of a parent and other family members, miscarriages, and racism. It is difficult to provide a full review of this book without delving into spoilers, but it is certainly more than just a haunted house. Readers of fast-paced action-filled horror and readers of beautiful yet devastating prose will find something to enjoy in this story. Despite the plethora of content warnings, I would recommend this book to young adults as well as adults that enjoy horror.
P.S. Mexican Gothic will be adapted into a mini-series by Hulu. Special thanks to our friends at Libro.fm, who provided a copy of Mexican Gothic for me to listen to.
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Luster by Raven Leilani
Edie is a 23-year-old artist living in New York and working a day-job at a publishing company. While struggling to figure out her place in this world and how to co-exist with others, she slips into a romantic relationship with a married digital archivist, Eric, from New Jersey. Eric’s wife, a medical examiner named Rebecca, has consented to an open marriage with certain rules, all of which Edie seems to break. After being fired, Edie finds herself unintentionally living with Eric, Rebecca, and their teenaged daughter, Akila. The remainder of the story examines this phase in Edie’s struggle to build and maintain relationships with those around her and develop her artistic talent.
Although Edie makes questionable choices and seems to have difficulty understanding her sexuality, she unapologetically takes ownership of her body (to the extent she can) and attempts to find pleasure in using her body to make others uncomfortable. Edie is messy, intelligent, complicated, beautiful, disruptive, emotional, and real. Knowing that Edie has an affair with an older white man and knowing that Edie becomes a role model to the white couple’s Black daughter, I was concerned about a potential stereotypical representation of a young Black woman. However, Leilani does not put Edie into any of the stereotypical neatly packaged boxes that perpetuate racism and bore readers. At moments that could arguably be stereotypical, Leilani’s choice to utilize a stream-of-consciousness narration style allows for a deeper exploration of these ideas through Edie’s perspective. Leilani portrays each grotesque and beautiful moment that makes up this phase of Edie’s life with authenticity and without judgment. I was also pleasantly surprised to see the focus not only on the relationship between Edie and Eric, but also between Edie and Rebecca, and between Edie and Akila. However, at its heart, this book is about Edie’s relationship with herself.
The tone of the book involves dark humor, sadness, and loneliness with small moments of joyful escape. The writing style follows Edie’s mental associations and emotions through her memories and her ponderings on the meanings of the events in her life. Edie’s thoughts are matter-of-fact yet poetic. This debut novel is a work of art. It isn’t a story you read; it’s a story you experience. I would especially recommend this book to fans of Alice Walker, as it reminded me of You Can’t Keep A Good Woman Down. Although I would recommend this novel to all contemporary fiction fans, readers may want to be aware of trigger warnings for racism, police brutality, gun violence, physical abuse, abortion, miscarriage, and drug addiction.
Special thanks to our friends at Libro.fm, who provided a copy of Luster for me to listen to.
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