Hurricane Season

New Directions. Mar. 2020. 224p. ISBN 9780811228039. $22.95. f.
Five boys discover the badly decomposed body of the Witch in an irrigation ditch near a small Mexican town, and we eventually ascertain that the perpetrators of her murder mistakenly believed she possessed a cache of coins and jewels that would finance their escape to Cancun to establish a new life. But though this is ostensibly a murder mystery, Melchor eschews straightforward narration and instead develops several parallel narratives focusing on the townspeople whose lives were affected by the victim, with all the story lines converging at the end. From the sewers of humanity, these deprived inhabitants lead lives of squalor involving drugs, booze, and gay and straight sex; readers may come away uncertain whether to pity or to despise them. Each lengthy chapter (one tops out at 62 pages) is one long paragraph with serpentine sentences that sweep along like a nonstop whirlwind, gradually bringing the reader closer to the motivations of the characters and to the solution of the crime.
VERDICT Melchor’s English-language debut made the cut for the Booker International 2020 long list and employs a creative storytelling technique, but readers must be forewarned that its vulgar, raunchy language is not for the linguistically squeamish.

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