This is not a review of Fernanda Melchor’s This Is Not Miami

  1. This is not a review of Fernanda Melchor’s collection This Is Not Miami.
  2. First published in 2013, This Is Not Miami is now available in English translation by Sophie Hughes.
  3. Hughes previously translated Melchor’s two novels, the recent shorty Paradais and the superb 2017 novel Hurricane Season.
  4. Melchor composed the twelve pieces collected in This Is Not Miami between 2002 and 2011.
  5. In her introduction to the collection, Melchor declares that the pieces in This Is Not Miami are not properly tales or stories or works of journalism, but rather relatos—reports “based on events that really happened.”
  6. Melchor crafts her relatos from eyewitness accounts.
  7. (There’s also some journalistic research in there.)
  8. Like Paradais and Hurricane Season, the relatos of This Is Not Miami all take place in Melchor’s native Veracruz.
  9. Like Paradais and Hurricane Season, the relatos of This Is Not Miami describe and explore violent crime.
  10. Some characters: narcos, corrupt cops, crackheads, corrupt judges, petty drug dealers, petty drug users, an infanticidal beauty queen, a child rapist, a ufologist, a lynch mob, starving stowaways, scared cadets, a demon-possessed teen, a healer, a priest, an older couple clinging to the floor of their apartment as bullets fly through the walls, etc.
  11. (And Melchor’s “I” of course.)
  12. (Oh, and there’s a brief appearance by Mel Gibson.)
  13. Most of Melchor’s relatos are short. There are two significantly longer pieces: “Queen, Slave, Woman” and “The House on El Estero.”
  14. “Queen, Slave, Woman” tells the story of Evangelina Tejera Bosada, queen of the 1983 Veracruz Carnival who killed her children and cut them into pieces.
  15. In the previous sentence, the phrase “tells the story” is imprecise. In “Queen” and in most of the relatos in the collection, Melchor is telling the story of the witnesses who are telling the story.
  16. “The House on El Estero,” the longest piece, is a haunted house/exorcism riff that ends up being a kind of love story, a story about falling in love with a storyteller.
  17. “The House on El Estero” began to to wear thin for me, its premise stretched farther than my interest.
  18. However, William T. Vollmann singled out “The House on El Estero” as a favorite in his New York Times review of This Is Not Miami, a review I read a few minutes before I decided not to write a review of This Is Not Miami.
  19. While I don’t think “El Estero” is one of the better pieces in the collection, I generally agree with Vollmann’s assessment of the book’s trajectory.
  20. Vollmann points out that “because the relatos are arranged mostly in order between 2002 and 2011, during which time the author was obviously working hard at her craft, the style rapidly improves, in Sophie Hughes’s translation, into something natural, careful and smooth.”
  21. And, I’d add, rough when necessary.
  22. I hate to say that I was disappointed in This Is Not MiamiI mean, I was, disappointed, but also deeply interested.
  23. The sketches here are not sketchy; they are ballast, the raw and vivid material that points to the Hurricane Season’s masterful hallucinatory language explosion.
  24. As such, This Is Not Miami reads like a minor work, but one nonetheless vital to its creator’s artistic maturation.
  25. For me, This Is Not Miami is most appreciable as an apprenticeship work that points toward the Bigger Thing to come.
  26. And of course I want more.