A dead Witch in a Mexican village prompts a host of locals to share rumors and memories of her checkered life and violent death.
Mexican writer Melchor’s first book published in English is remarkable for the sheer force of its language. Its eight chapters are each one paragraph long, and they're usually very long paragraphs, often constructed of page- or pages-long sentences. The format gives the impression that we’re occupying the space of a host of characters who’ll brook no interruption, even if their storytelling is lurid, digressive, and/or unreliable. But all agree that a bad thing has happened: The corpse of a local Witch who trades in “curses and cures” has been discovered floating in an irrigation canal, “seething under a myriad of black snakes.” The chapters that follow attempt to fill out the backstory: She allegedly killed her husband and cursed his sons, hexed relationships over money, might actually be a man, delivered abortions, and provided a druggy and boozy safe haven for young gay men. What’s true or not matters less than the Witch’s role as the village scapegoat, the person upon whom everyone places their shames and secrets. Two virtuoso chapters underscore the depth of feeling and disquieting intensity Melchor is capable of, one turning on a girl impregnated by her stepfather and the blame and embarrassment rained upon her, the other about a closeted young man in a Bosch-ian milieu that takes byways into drugs, violence, and bestiality porn. It’s tough stuff but not gratuitously so: The narrative moves so fast the slurs and gross-outs feel less like attempts to shock and more like the infrastructure of a place built on rage and transgression. The place is suffused with “bad vibes, jinxes...bleakness.” Whether the Witch was its creator or firewall is an open question.
Messy yet engrossingly feverish. Melchor has deep reserves of talent and nerve.