Silvia Moreno-Garcia, “Mexican Gothic” (2020) (read aloud by by Frankie Corzo) – It’s hard to say many people benefited from covid, and I’m not really willing to say Canadian horror writer Silvia Moreno-Garcia was one, but her breakout novel, “Mexican Gothic,” fit the mood, found a literally captive audience, and became a big enough hit to make it to my “zeitgeisty reads” slot. It’s also basically “Get Out” Latin American, a novel, and considerably less deft than Jordan Peele’s hit horror-satire film. It’s a reasonably promising premise: a young Mexican ingenue in the fifties has to go rescue a lady cousin from the clutches of an evil house and the family that lives there and which the cousin married into.
Here’s the thing with the increasing awareness of a certain kind of history and politics among the sort of writers who, twenty-thirty years ago, would have made a point of not giving a shit: it can be used to score cheap points and cover over flaws in the execution of a work of art. It’s the closest the anti-PC crowd gets to a point when it comes to criticism, and fittingly, the baying hordes of anonymous commenters come closer — though not very close — to the truth of the matter than the notionally smarter contrarian essayists and podcasters paid to opine about it. It’s not some big conspiracy. It’s just fashion. So the ingenue is a girl-boss who never needs anyone’s help and always has a ready zinger- no innocent final girl here! The evil family are creepy British race science people, as though Mexico lacks its own oppressors and cooperators with foreign oppressors. That’s one thing Peele managed in “Get Out” that his many imitators have not- contemporary relevance and real strangeness. Given that he only had the suburbs to work with, that’s quite a feat.
The plot of “Mexican Gothic” is sufficiently by-the-numbers that if she was so inclined, Moreno-Garcia could probably argue it’s that way intentionally, as an homage to the cheesy horror we’re all supposed to love. There’s about as much feeling for being in either the 1950s, or in Mexico, or really in danger, as there is in any cheap period drama, or actually probably rather less, given there’s no set design to carry it off. Everyone talks like a contemporary person or a contemporary person’s bad parody, more worthy of a sarcastic tweet than a novel, of what various stock characters — the creepy racist, the bookish innocent — from the past would sound like. It wasn’t a terrible book. But it was mediocre and I have to figure covid-brain has something to do with its rapturous reception. **’