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PARADAIS by Fernanda  Melchor Kirkus Star


by Fernanda Melchor ; translated by Sophie Hughes

Pub Date: March 1st, 2022
ISBN: 978-0-8112-3132-9
Publisher: New Directions

A poor gardener teams up with a disturbed young man to horrifying results in this nightmarish novel.

With her second novel to be translated into English, following Hurricane Season (2020), Mexican author Melchor proves that she’s got nightmares to spare. This slim volume follows Polo, a gardener in a posh housing development who spends his evenings getting drunk and chain-smoking cigarettes with Franco, the grandson of two of the complex’s residents. Polo can’t stand Franco, not just because of his family’s wealth, but because of his incessant fantasizing about Marián Maroño, another resident of the development and the wealthy wife of a TV personality. Polo only attends their nightly meetings out of boredom and because he can’t stand his own home, where he lives with his hectoring mother and a pregnant cousin who won’t stop flirting with him. He doesn’t get Franco’s obsession with Marián, whom he considers “a whore, a gold digger” with an “unbearable family, a bunch of smug pricks who thought the world revolved around them.” Polo is so desperate to escape his home that when Franco reveals a plan that will both enrich Polo and realize Franco’s most far-fetched sexual fantasies, the young gardener says he’ll go along with it, perhaps unaware of how serious his drinking companion is: “Who could have known he really meant what he said?” Like Hurricane Season, this novel is told in long sentences and paragraphs, lending it a fever-dream quality that is, at its most intense, almost sickening. Also like its predecessor, it’s filled with harsh profanity, violence, and disturbing sex; even the most open-minded will find it difficult to read in parts. But there’s nothing exploitative here—it’s horrifying but never gratuitous; Melchor uses shock to lay bare issues of classism, misogyny, and the ravages of child abuse. Her prose, ably translated by Hughes, is dizzying but effective; it’s as if she’s holding the reader’s head and daring them to look away from the social problems she brings to light. This might be a deeply disconcerting novel, but it’s also a brave one.

A fever dream that's as hard to read as it is brilliant.