The Feminist Texican [Reads] will be featuring a variety of fiction and nonfiction books by/about Latin@s throughout Latina/o Heritage Month (September 15 – October 15).
In 1959, Teresa, a Mexican American girl with no family and big dreams begins dating handsome, white Dan Watson. Their interracial relationship is the subject of much gossip, and locals flock to the bar where the two of them sometimes perform for tips. A few months later, The Director and The Actress arrive in quiet little Bakersfield, CA to film a movie most famous for its bloody shower scene at a creepy motel. Attention shifts from Dan and Teresa to The Director and The Actress as locals speculate their purpose in Bakersfield. Little did anyone know that the little town was on the brink of change and about to deal with a bloody real-life crime of its own: Teresa is murdered and Dan flees Bakersfield, never to be heard from again.
The book has a narrator, though each chapter is told from the perspectives of different characters. One crime occurs, yet each character’s interpretation of the event vastly differs from the next. In addition to learning about the main protagonists, the reader also learns about Dan’s mother, Arlene, who works as a waitress at the diner and owns a dying little motel on the outskirts of town; she is a woman who clings stubbornly to the past as the future flies right by her.
I tend to steer clear of the noir/mystery genre when it comes to books (indeed, I was ready to throw in the towel with this book during the first chapter). I am so glad I didn’t, though, because once it all clicked and I realized what Muñoz was doing, I couldn’t get enough. Using Pycho, a film so deeply entrenched in popular culture, as the pretext for his book could have gone horribly awry (see: nearly every wannabe-Psycho thriller ever made). But not only does Muñoz allude to Hitchcockian noir and mis-en-scène, he flourishes in it with detached precision. I was constantly left in awe of the way he crafted his scenes. I went back and reread several passages just to study the way they were elegantly written. That this is Manuel Muñoz’s first novel is nothing short of amazing.
What You See in the Dark was released on March 29, 2011 by Algonquin Books.