Fernanda Melchor Explores the Human Capacity for Violence, and Grace

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“Paradais” may not be intended as a public statement about Mexican society, but a more incisive commentary on its often haunting facts of life would be hard to find. Men in Melchor’s novels view women as tricksters and deceivers, in possession of potions and powers that make them lose control and turn to extremes. Polo’s grandfather warns him that it’s “bad for a man’s health — pernicious he would say — to sleep so close to a woman,” and Polo himself looks down on Franco for not having “the balls to approach any member of the opposite sex and do what it took to tame her, control her, spread her legs.”

Melchor’s cleareyed depictions of “the full, brutal force 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 on a near-daily basis, even as a large and energetic women’s protest movement is forcing a messy and uneven reckoning with gender violence.

“When I wrote ‘Hurricane Season,’ I was very interested in making sense of the horrible violence that we experience in Mexico,” she said, “and also of the violence that I’ve been subjected to as a woman, and as a woman in Veracruz.”

But while Melchor doesn’t shy away from the broader conversation about the risks inherent to being a woman in the country of her birth, she also finds it intriguing that readers assume she is inspired by that reality and never, for example, by American writers like Denis Johnson, Cormac McCarthy or Lee Stringer.

“Poverty and homelessness and drug addiction are not specific to one country,” she said.

Whatever her inspiration, Melchor’s rendering of male fantasy and violence is so complete, and often so gruesome, that readers may at times recoil from the page. That said, Melchor’s sensitivity to the humanity that remains in even her nastiest characters — what she calls “an exercise of desperate and radical empathy” — suggests that they warrant understanding all the same.

“What beguiles me as a reader is how close she gets to her characters, the way she understands the cadences of their speech, their realities,” said Eric Becker, senior editor of Words Without Borders, an online magazine of international literature 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 must be the master in the sense that she seems to see through her characters.”

As for what’s next, Melchor is superstitious about giving away too much. “Hurricane Season” is set to be made into a film, produced by Netflix and directed by Elisa Miller, and two ideas for potential books are in the works.