By Jay Fox
Brooklyn, NY, USA

Fernanda Melchor’s Hurricane Season is an extremely strong novel. Though it is on the short side – 210 pages and only eight chapters (five of which are written from the perspectives of specific characters) – Melchor manages to reveal a vivid topography of entrenched poverty and sexual violence in the hinterlands of Veracruz, a state that hugs the southwest coast of the Gulf of Mexico. The event at the center of the novel is the brutal murder of the Witch, or rather the Young Witch, who’s primary contribution to the community was not so much to be a conjurer of spells or an interpreter of omens, but rather a brewer of certain concoctions for women with unwanted pregnancies. What follows is not a game of cat and mouse between a brilliant or corrupt detective chasing the Witch’s murderer, but stories from five unreliable and vulgar narrators who take the reader along twisting roads of soliloquy that detail their prejudices as they attempt to justify their misdeeds and reveal what circumstances led them to cross paths with the Witch, the other narrators, and the Witch’s murderers.

Jay Fox

The first thing that the reader is going to notice is that Melchor employs a lot of long and winding sentences. This may seem intimidating initially, especially since many authors who favor this style may favor purple and esoteric language. However, her writing follows a steady pace that can edge on the hypnotic. The pace and flow of these monologues is natural, effortless, raw, and mesmerizing. (Sophie Hughes, the translator, is clearly gifted and her ability to give each of the characters their own distinct voice and metric is something that very often gets lost in translation.)

As they each weave their own breathless tragedies, the reader comes to formulate a notion about not only the events that led to the death of the Witch, but the emotional scarring unique to each character. For many of the characters, there is a seething rancor coursing beneath the words on the page like an undertow, and every so often this current does pull the reader down into the dark, violent world wherein their wounds came to be. These biographical detours do not feel as though they are coming from the maudlin drunk at the edge of the bar who’s happened to have caught your ear by chance. Rather, these feel like the stories someone might tell while in an interrogation room, someone who’s pacing, pacing, pacing, cursing, lighting and cigarette, and then unburdening themselves with the only half-true story of their spiritual disfigurement, and doing so without taking on a shock artist’s affectation.

And this brings up the second thing that one will undoubtably discover about Melchor’s writing: It is extremely brutal and vulgar. This is vulgar in the typical sense: There is a lot of profanity, a lot of chest thumping, a lot of violence that would seem to cross over into the realm of sadism. However, it is also the vulgar in that it describes the lives of the vulgus—the common people—and how it is rooted in violence. This is not the silly ultraviolence of Robocop or a grim literary tool meant to show how one can become inured to wanton violence (as was the case in BolaƱo’s 2666). It simply is. It is a part of the landscape, a part of the atmosphere. These are the lives of the global underclass who are largely uneducated and who have been mostly abandoned by the state and any formal economic, be it local or global.

As Melchor shows, many cannot even sell their labor on any kind of market because there is no space for them in any legitimate market. Brando, one of the key characters, has a mother in one such situation and her life is regarded as ultimately worthless, “Because the truth was his mother served literally no purpose: she didn’t work, she didn’t earn shit, she spent her life either in church or glued to the TV screen watching soap operas or reading celebrity magazines; her sole contribution the world was the carbon dioxide she exhaled with each breath. An utterly pointless life, a dead loss.” This should not be taken to mean that one can only derive a sense of value from life by being employed and earning a wage. Rather, it’s work in a larger sense. It’s the idea of producing something.

Like Brando’s mother, most of the other characters have no sense of opportunity and no means of making a living. They have been deemed a superfluous subset of humanity by the market and the established order.

Since they are no longer needed, then there is no need to replicate the ideology that maintains relations between classes. As Louis Athusser wrote in On Ideology, “The reproduction of labour power requires not only a reproduction of its skills, but also, at the same time, a reproduction of its submission to the rules of the established order, i.e. a reproduction of submission to the ruling ideology for the workers, and a reproduction of the ability to manipulate the ruling ideology correctly for the agents of exploitation and repression, so that they, too, will provide for the domination of the ruling class ‘in words’.” If you don’t need this framework any longer, if it is simply abandoned and no prevailing ideology moves in to takes its place, what exactly replaces it?

It would seem that Melchor’s response is that a hierarchy of violence partially occupies this void, while the rest is filled by consumption patterns propagated by late stage capitalism—empty gratification, particularly via pornography, meaningless sex, drugs, and conspicuous consumption of things like high-end sneakers. This desire to consume brings them to the illicit market, which for the men often means drugs or violence and the for the women prostitution. As Melchor reveals in Hurricane Season, however, these gender lines are far from cut in stone, even if many of the characters continue to ostensibly believe in a heteronormative culture buttressed by a hollow machismo.

It would be incorrect to say that the challenge to heteronormative views is somehow leading to the omnipresent violence in Melchor’s novel, but it is part of the frustration that fuels many (but not all) of the vacuous acts of brutality depicted in Hurricane Season. She also demonstrates time and again that violence is reinforced and propagated because it abides by one primary rule, which is that it inevitably trickles down to the most vulnerable.



Jay Fox is the author of The Walls and is a regular contributor to Stay Thirsty Magazine.

All opinions expressed are solely those of its author and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.