This week I finished Who Killed Palomino Molero by Mario Vargas Llosa and I Want to Show You More by Jamie Quatro. (I also got 50 or so more pages in Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay, and for those of you who have been holding your breath but still not suffocated, I’m going to finish it and talk about it next week).
Who Killed Palomino Molero came under a lot of fire when it was published. Vargas Llosa is a respected literary author, and went on to win the Nobel Prize a couple of decades after writing Who Killed Palomino Molero. Critics were angry that a talented author would write something that might appeal to the masses. It was a part of this stupid genre versus literary fiction dichotomy that drives me up the wall. The idea, in the debate, is that literary fiction is Literature with a capital L and genre fiction (which spans everything else) is pulp and not really worth anyone’s time to read, write, or talk about. Every once in a while a “literary” writer will write a “genre” book and critics lose their mind because someone they claimed as one of theirs is writing for the other side. It is a nonsensical dichotomy. For my money, Vargas Llosa should write a detective novel if he wants to write a detective novel.
My problem with Who Killed Palomino Molero wasn’t that it wasn’t Literature with a capital L, but that it wasn’t very good. The prose work, and the characters are memorable, but the ending is copped from Chinatown, and not in a Carlos Fuentes intertextual redefining the source material way, but more in a Shia LaBeouf “this is good and I’m going to steal it” way. If you haven’t seen Chinatown or read Who Killed Palomino Molero, you’re better off seeing the movie. It’s a classic and the book is a midlevel detective novel that happened to be written by a great writer.
I Want to Show You More by Jamie Quatro is a good collection of stories that’s distributed poorly. The first five or six stories focus in on the Corley family, who are boring people, dealing with beaten path literary issues. Infidelity. Cancer. Raising children in the aftermath of a spouse’s death. They’re all serious issues, but Quatro doesn’t bring enough newness to them for me to really get invested after all the other stories I’ve read about those topics. She doesn’t do enough to make them her own.
Once you get through those few stories though, wow does that book get better. The second half, starting with “1.7 to Tennessee” is incredible. The descriptions are both visceral and beautiful, and at times very funny. “Sinkhole” is one of the best stories I’ve read. Period.
What leaves me scratching my head is the way the stories are ordered. If I were her, I’d be worried about losing readers in those first few. If I hadn’t pushed through and gotten to the great stories at the end, which I only did because of the book’s stellar reputation, I would’ve written her off. I’m glad I didn’t though. I would feel good about reading the whole collection just to have read “Sinkhole.”
Next week, I’ll be finishing Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay and Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel García Márquez. Both books have been amazing so far, so I’m excited to talk about them. I’m also still working on The Space Traveler by Benjamin Grossberg, and I started The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, which has been absolutely amazing. I’m in love with her style. Hopefully I’ll finish those two in the coming weeks.