Review: Another side of paradise in Melchor’s ‘Paradais’
“Paradais”, by Fernanda Melchor (New Directions)
Reality-distorting fantasies creep into Paradais, the gated community that defines Fernanda Melchor’s Garden of Eden and lends its name to her latest novel. Macabre characters drive the plot and the slippery syntax of the prose, guiding Melchor’s tale through the shadows of a society locked in chains.
Teenage outcasts Leopoldo Garcia Chaparro, or Polo, and Franco Andrade, or Fatboy, shape the novel’s central collisions. Told by the third nearby narrator, the reader is brought closer to the universe of Polo, the “muchacho” of the residence travels between Progreso, his neighboring village, and Paradais, where he is a gardener. He is “black-skinned and ugly as a sin”, according to his mother. Caught between his mother’s authoritarian control and the sinister drug cartels creeping into Progreso, Polo succumbs and prolongs his days with Fatboy, one of Paradais’ residents.
Fatboy steals money from his grandparents to buy booze and cheese snacks, the main motivation for Polo’s business. Besides his porn habits, Fatboy is obsessed with his neighbor, Señora Marian, a married woman and mother, whom he fetishizes in grotesque detail. Fatboy has “blonde curls that made him look ridiculous, like an overfed cherub; a monstrous male child whose soulless eyes only lit up” when he lays them on Señora Marian. Described through Polo’s interpretation, readers experience the immense disgust he feels towards Fatboy’s charming situation, his luxurious future a spoon-fed assurance. It is a stark contrast to that of Polo, which is locked into the marred contours of colonial subjugation.
The two form a relationship rooted in loneliness and desperation that culminates in a scheme to obtain their ultimate desires for escape, with the respective consequences playing on Mexico’s racist, classist, and sexist destiny. Between basic instincts and curdled socialization that boils the plot, the thrill of the story only grows in catastrophic momentum.
Melchor’s prose undulates with shifting clauses and semantic chaos that runs amok like the “vines, thorns, and flowers that mummified the saplings then scattered the snags with devil’s trumpets and blue bellflowers,” contrasting with the ” elegant blades of the perfect lawn” in the housing complex. As Polo aims to weed out any growth from the relentless jungle that “has invaded the flowerbeds and central storerooms, decimating the begonias and China roses,” readers are immersed in the subtext of Polo’s existential predicament. between the forces of social control.
Melchor has added necessary work to the Gothic genre that resonates with the social fragilities of Mexico today, the geopolitical vulnerability it addresses, challenging aesthetic pretensions and moralistic conclusions. Between the black river that flows by the sea, the relationships between characters that populate the parasitic tendencies of the world, and the cavernous fate to which the protagonists are brought, there is no redemption in this lost paradise.