“Paradis” may not be intended as a public statement about Mexican society, but a sharper commentary on life’s often haunting facts would be hard to find. Men in Melchor’s novels see women as tricksters and tricksters, possessing potions and powers that make them lose control and go to extremes. Polo’s grandfather warns him that it is “bad for a man’s health – harmful, he would say – to sleep so close to a woman”, and Polo himself looks down on Franco because he “doesn’t have the balls to be a member of the opposite sex and what it took to tame her, control her, spread her legs.”
Melchor’s lucid depictions of “the full, brutal power of male vice,” as she writes in “Hurricane Season,” are especially poignant in today’s Mexico. Femicides and the disappearances of young women make the morning news almost daily, even as a large and energetic protest movement of women forces a messy and unequal reckoning with gender violence.
“When I wrote ‘Hurricane Season’ I was very interested in understanding the horrific violence we are experiencing in Mexico,” she said, “and also the violence I am experiencing as a woman and as a woman in Veracruz.”
But while Melchor doesn’t shy away from the wider conversation about the risks inherent in being a woman in the country of her birth, she also finds it intriguing that readers assume she was inspired by that reality and never by American writers like Denis, for example. Johnson, Cormac McCarthy or Lee Stringer.
“Poverty, homelessness and drug addiction are not specific to one country,” she said.
Whatever her inspiration, Melchor’s portrayal of male fantasy and violence is so complete and often so gruesome that sometimes readers shy away from the page. That said, Melchor’s sensitivity to the humanity present in even her meanest characters—what she calls “an exercise of desperate and radical empathy”—suggests that they do warrant understanding.
“What amazes me as a reader is how close she gets to her characters, the way she understands the cadence of their speech, their reality,” said Eric Becker, editor-in-chief of Words Without Borders, an online international literature magazine that will publish a story from “Aquí no es Miami”, translated by Hughes, in June. “We talk a lot about empathy in literature, but Melchor has to be the master in the sense that she seems to see through her characters.”
Looking ahead, Melchor is superstitious when it comes to giving away too much. “Hurricane Season” is being made into a movie, produced by Netflix and directed by Elisa Miller, and two ideas for possible books are in the works.