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Book Review: Velvet Was the Night by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Or: I Knew My Love of Telenovelas, Fanta, and Elvis Would Be Appreciated Somewhere

Title: Velvet Was The Night

Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Genre: Historical Fiction

Page Count: 281

Buy: Redux Society

Rating: Three outta Five

Content Warnings: talk and depictions of racism, talk and depictions of violence, political violence, violence against protesters, gun violence, fetishizing race, grooming, emotional mood changes, mental health disorders, anxiety, grief and grieving, torture, gore.

*This is a spoiler-free review! Enjoy!*

“Often life doesn’t make sense, and if Elvis had a motto it was that: life’s a mess.”

This one’s one of those books with a killer first line; meets Elvis but not THE Elvis; meets a multifaceted thug; meets if My Name Is Earl and CSI took place in Mexico City; meets communism and red scare; meets masculine showboating; meets Breaking Bad; meets that time you felt like you needed to prove yourself to an older sibling to assert your dominance; meets those “word of the day” tear-away calendars; meets conversations with a whole bunch of people who are good at trivial pursuit; meets wanting a code name really bad; meets The Office meets romcom; meets 13 going on 30 but with less Thriller and even more misogyny; meets soap opera lovers; meets seeing the word “eclectic” and only thinking about that scene in the Sister Act 2; meets voyeurism to an extreme; meets a little Rear Window; meets the feeling when you walk back into your house and you notice something isn't where you left it; meets every time you decide to go run and pick something up so you don't care what you look like but then you run into somebody incredibly hot and you're like “why did I wear this out”; meets, the worst dating advice from magazines; meets the most patient cat; meets making up stories about the strangers you see; meets Charlie's conspiracy board from It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia; meets the longest meet-cute ever; meets How I Met Your Mother.

First and foremost: for a story that’s less than 300 pages, this author shoves as much as she can into an itty bitty space. This book’s got noir and pulp fiction references, lots of political violence, lengthy discussions about loving romance stories, and LOTS of food depictions all woven together in a story that still somehow manages to make sense.

… IF you can make it past the first few chapters.

“She wanted to savor this chance to lose herself in a different sort of story.”

If you’ve come to this story from Moreno-Garcia’s other work, Mexican Gothic, I recommend readjusting your perspective before diving in headfirst. This book is just as disturbing as her other work, but in a completely different way - this time focusing on senseless violence and gore rather than psychological manipulation. Half of the narrative is told in what can only be described as “thug voice” and provides a perspective desensitized to violence and shows the harsh realities of living a life devoted to desperately proving yourself, no matter the cost. What makes this narrative even more disturbing is its juxtaposition to the other half of the story, told from the perspective of a romance story-loving secretary. Her chapters are - for lack of a better word - normal for most of the story. Her chapters are almost apathetic and lengthier, making for a striking comparison to the other main character’s chapters. If you can handle the whiplash you’ll receive getting from chapter one to chapter two, you can probably handle reading the whole book.

Just as in Mexican Gothic, Moreno-Garcia has written a story here that also posits the question of cultural appropriation and imposition. The appearance or emergence of white culture in and on top of Mexican culture constantly appears throughout the narrative, and not just in the political discussions. As you read you’ll be constantly hit in the face with references to imported items - music and media specifically - that ultimately end up informing the characters’ lives in big, if sometimes subtle, ways. And just like her other novel, you might end up craving more of the setting’s culture and tradition, but maybe the point is that it’s quite literally being written over by another.

“How do stories end? she wondered. With comic books it was easy to tell: the closing panels were clearly indicated, the words “final issue” were emblazoned on the cover. With life it was harder to figure out where anything begins and where it concludes. Storylines bled outside the margins of pages; the colorist didn’t apply final touches.”

Honestly, people that enjoy film noir will probably enjoy this book the most - it’s gritty, dark, and a little slow-paced. The story is character-driven with two leads that are less than relatable on the surface, but whose commonalities and twisted narratives ultimately make the ending worth the slower bits.

I give this book three out of five ham-and-cheese sandwiches.

Have you read something today? You should.

Until our next story,

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