Temporada de huracanes. Fernanda Melchor. Mexico City: Literatura Random House. 2017. 223 pages.
Five boys march through a mucky watercourse carrying a bucket filled with stones previously collected from the river, ready to engage with something unknown surfacing from the water. Their attention is soon drawn to a macabre discovery: a bloated and decomposing corpse emerging from the yellowish and foamy water of the channel. Thus the latest novel of Fernanda Melchor (Veracruz, Mexico, 1982), Temporada de huracanes (2017), begins. The presence of a dead body, as well as the existence of a crime scene, ubiquitous in the Latin American fiction of the last decades, may give the impression that we are dealing with a whodunit. Yet, while the revelation of identity of the culprits (the name of the victim is revealed in the subsequent pages) and the explanation of the events surrounding the death of la Bruja (the Witch) evidently play a crucial role in the development of the novel (the author ingeniously devises a crime-story subplot which unfolds as the perspectives and life stories of the various protagonists are told), contrary to the classic structure of the detective story, in this case no one is looking for the truth and no investigation ever takes place. In fact, when the police step in, chief Rigorito and his men have the sole aim of getting hold of the victim’s “hidden treasure”. In the world portrayed by Melchor, the imaginary town of La Matosa, (seemingly resembling the Mexican state of Veracruz, but it could be any neglected space depredated by the logics of late-capitalism), the “culprit” is to be found elsewhere, in the social abandonment which perpetuate the hellish cycle of poverty and violence, machismo and misogyny which dominates the lives of the protagonists and mark their fate.
The novel, however, does not aspire to compose a large-scale portrait of the society as per certain realist tradition. Instead Melchor, to paraphrase the words Fredric Jameson used to speak of Raymond Chandler, as a painter of the Mexican society opts for the use of fragmentary pictures of daily existence. Each chapter of the book recounts the story of one specific character, describes the social and family context, characterized by unemployment, poverty and violence, in which they live. However, the narrator also combines these descriptions with endless anecdotical invention and picaresque adventures set in the backdrop of what Gabriel Wolfson called Bruegelian imagery.
The sections of the novel comprise large and almost uninterrupted paragraphs, a narrative device which evokes, as Edmundo Paz Soldán signals in his review of the book, the style of Garcia Márquez’s The Autumn of the Patriarch. Indeed, the novel owes much to the inspiration of the so-called Magical Realism, not only due to the narrative style, but also and perhaps above all, due to the presence of a magical dimension and the references to ancestral myths. That the reference to this mythical sphere is, however, a parodical reinterpretation of Magical Realism, a way to “play with a repetition of dead forms”, as Jameson would say, is perhaps confirmed by the fact that the characters themselves oscillate between belief and skepticism when they are confronted with the possibility that an event is the result of some sort of spell, witchcraft or demonic possession. When at the end of the novel the narrator recalls the belief that a series of disgraces such as massacres, decapitations, rapes, murders may be the effects of the malas vibras (evil energies) brought about by the hurricanes, the hypothesis is implicitly discarded by the underlying ironic, self-parodic and Ibargüengoitian (“Some of the events here narrated are real. All the characters are imaginary”, recites the epigraph from Las muertas) tone of the narrating voice. Fredric Jameson wrote that in One Hundred Years of Solitude there is no magic, no metaphor, just “materialist sublime”. This description could well work for Temporada de huracanes: there is nothing marvelous or supernatural in the deeds and events narrated, only the crude horror which becomes even more unbearable and repugnant when violence is exercised against vulnerable, defenseless bodies.
Francesco Di Bernardo
Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla