WHAT YOU SEE IN THE DARK by Manuel Munoz

Book Quote:

“You’ll understand one day, her mother had said at the bus station. When you find a man of your own, you’ll know why you’ll run toward him.”

Book Review:

Review by Betsey Van Horn  (MAR 28, 2011)

What do you see in the dark? Well, that partly depends on your perspective. In Munoz’s stylistic mise-en-scène novel, the second-person point of view frames the watchful eye and disguises the wary teller. Reading this story is like peering through Hitchcock’s lens—the camera as observer’s tool and observer as camera–with light and shadow and space concentrated and dispersed frame by frame, sentence by sentence.

Munoz applied the famous director’s noir techniques to create a story about murder, madness, and longing amid the desire and antipathy of a working-class California town. Lives intersect, scenes juxtapose, and shades of gray color the landscape of the novel. Scenes of tenderness dovetail with acts of menace, plaintive music integrates with the rattling of chains, dark interiors annex the stark white heat of day.

In the hushed and dusty working-class town of Bakersfield, California, in the late 1950’s, the locals jealously watch the fresh and guarded romance of Dan and Teresa. Dan is the rugged bartender/guitarist and sexy son of Arlene, a bitter waitress at the downtown café and the abandoned wife of a motel owner out on the changing Highway 99. Teresa, a shoe saleswoman and aspiring singer, is the willowy Mexican-American daughter of a mother who left her to chase dreams of love in Texas. The narrow-minded prejudices of the town encroach upon the open bud of romance, and the ill-fated romance takes an ineluctable bloody turn. We know from the start that that someone dies, but it is the why and how and where that sustains the tension of the story.

At the height of Dan and Teresa’s love story, the glitter and fantasy of Hollywood comes to Bakersfield as the crew arrives to shoot select scenes of the iconic movie we know today as PSYCHO. The unnamed Actress and Director reveal themselves implicitly through details of the unnamed film-in-progress. It was evident when they scouted exterior shots for the motel, and during the illustrious shower scene. The interior monologues of the Actress and the frame by frame shoot of that most renowned scene in movie history is worth the price of admission alone. It felt as if Munoz had been standing next to Hitchcock. The author’s interpretation of historical data are transposed with polished clarity into film as words, and the searing silences that Hitchcock is so famous for lands on the page in the spaces between passages.

There are superbly captured details and Hitchcockian motifs that add subtlety to the story and incite the reader’s suspense, such as stairwells, keys, mothers, blondes, confined spaces, as well as loss of identity and optical symbols. The plate glass window of the café serves up a film frame metaphor (and the lens of a camera). Moral ambiguity, mirrors, bars and grills, and kisses, and of course—the MacGuffin, are all woven in with care and control.

My primary criticism is that the narrative is dry and cerebral. I was academically stimulated by the author’s style and complexity of techniques, but occasionally it felt studied and detached. The muted coolness kept me at a distance; I wasn’t emotionally engaged, but I was intellectually absorbed. The frequent jump-cuts were its strength, but also its drawback.

So what do you see in the dark? The eyes, said Hitchcock, the eyes said it all.

AMAZON READER RATING: from 17 readers
PUBLISHER: Algonquin Books (March 29, 2011)
REVIEWER: Betsey Van Horn
AVAILABLE AS A KINDLE BOOK? YES! Start Reading Now!
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Manuel Muñoz
EXTRAS: Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: More Psycho:

Bibliography:


March 28, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , ,  · Posted in: California, Class - Race - Gender, Mystery/Suspense, Noir, Whiting, y Award Winning Author

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