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David Kurnick on Fernanda Melchor
Amid the backlash to Jeanine Cummins’ American Dirt, and the praise for Valeria Luiselli’s Lost Children Archive, David Kurnick probes the politics and rhetoric of Fernanda Melchor’s Hurricane Season:
The metafictional trappings of Luiselli’s book can’t obscure its plot’s structural resemblance to Cummins’s: here, too, middle-class characters inhabit a geopolitical crisis as a kind of ethical thrill ride.
Hurricane Season is not participating in these liberal moral gymnastics. [But u]nlike Cummins and Luiselli, Melchor refuses to invite comfortable readers to imagine themselves in the situation of her intensely vulnerable characters. … As the plot unfolds, the novel hits a checklist of social ills — misogyny, transphobia, homophobia, racism, neoliberal rapacity — and hits them so hard that the results at times approach the unreadable. And yet, the book has a ferocious rhetorical and narrative power, a profane colloquial energy that almost serves as a protest against the cruelty it recounts. At times the novel’s style feels close to outpacing the nightmarish world it narrates.
That it never does is Melchor’s greatest challenge to the protocols of ‘literary fiction,’ which tends to recast even the grimmest material as intellectually or morally fortifying. But you’re not going to feel better, or better about yourself, for having read Hurricane Season.