cover image Paradais

Paradais

Fernanda Melchor, trans. from the Spanish by Sophie Hughes. New Directions, $19.

The intense latest from Mexican writer Melchor (Hurricane Season) follows two teenage boys in the Yucatán united by their disparate longings. The story is mostly that of Polo, who is angry and directionless after failing out of high school and spurned by his criminal older cousin and “almost a brother” Milton after attempting to get work with him. Instead, he serves as gardener in a gated community, where he meets Franco Andrade, a pampered but troubled overweight delinquent occasionally beaten by his father. In the boys’ time together, drinking excessive amounts of booze paid for by Franco and secured by Polo, Franco spouts expansively about his lust for new neighbor Señora Marián. Polo is amused by Franco’s delusional obsession—which Melchor renders unflinchingly in a pungent anthem of masturbatory fantasies—and disgusted by the Señora, whom he sees as attention-seeking for her lycra pants and cleavage. He’s still a boy—he’s terrified by the local legend of the Bloody Countess, the ghost of a Spanish colonist who was beaten to death—but wants to be a man and to gain acceptance from Milton, as Franco grows increasingly desperate for the Señora. Their plan, hinted at throughout and revealed only at the end, comes off as wildly absurd and sadly plausible. Once again, this writer impresses and disturbs. (Mar.)