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“Mexican Gothic” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Upon receipt of a troubling letter from a cousin, Noemi Taboada is charged by her father, the head of the Taboada clan, with investigating the disturbing claims it contains. Armed with little more than the confidence that a privileged upbringing affords, Noemi sets off to the isolated mansion wherein her cousin lives with her husband, her father-in-law, and assorted relatives. These are the Doyle family: Anglo silver-mine owners who have fallen upon hard times. As Noemi conducts her investigation into the veracity of the outlandish claims made by her cousin, she begins to experience the very same sense of madness and foreboding her cousin spoke of in her communication. What is wrong with the Doyles, and what is wrong with this house?

With a nod to “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, it is easy to slip along with Noemi into the increasingly disturbing and fantastic world of High Place — the Doyle family home. The reader is given various clues, some subtle, but mostly of the sledgehammer variety, as to what is going on deep within the house. For those who like to identify the inner workings of a mystery as they read along, “Mexican Gothic” is not a challenge. (This reviewer is pretty dim at that and even he got it!) And, a word of caution, the closing chapters of the book are not for the fainthearted. They reach a level of visceral human interaction which was entirely out of keeping with the preceding chapters.

The set-up is more compelling and better crafted then the somewhat Hollywood ending. There is something deeply disturbing about the way in which Moreno-Garcia allows the feisty Noemi to be drawn in to the world of the Doyles. Her natural resistance to authority and her willingness to question orders, which are clearly depicted in the opening pages, are swallowed up by the glowering oppression of the Doyle family and the mansion in which they live. This alone qualifies as creepy, and it worked on the level of the psychological thriller. Which is why the ending fell way short of the complexity the novel, thus far, had shown. One does not need Quentin Tarantino to direct the end of a Merchant Ivory production; both have their place, of course, they just don’t work well together.

Despite the fractured nature of “Mexican Gothic” I shall return to the works of Silvia Moreno-Garcia, many of which are available in a variety of formats at the Cabell County Library.

David Owens, who reads books, works at the Cabell County Library.

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