Our Share of Night

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From The Wall Street Journal:

If it’s rare to come across a truly new idea in speculative fiction, that problem is nothing compared to the embarrassing rehash of characters, settings, plot points and monsters in the genre that you might call “supernatural horror with a dollop of sex.” It started well before “Twilight,” and it doesn’t look like it’s ending anytime soon. So it was with some trepidation I picked up “Our Share of Night” by Mariana Enriquez, translated by Megan McDowell. It’s a large book with an excellent cover and some of the more uninformative flap copy I have read in a while. It’s a good thing I ignored it.

The book’s premise is deceptively simple: a boy, Gaspar, inherits the great and terrible legacy his very gothic family has been working towards after his mother is killed in a car crash—an accident that probably wasn’t entirely by accident. His father, Juan, is a medium, a conduit between the magical force and world known as the Darkness and the members of the Order, an international, supernatural-worshipping cult more or less run by Gaspar’s grandparents. To control Juan they hide his dead wife’s soul somewhere he cannot reach.

And they need to control him, because Gaspar may also be manifesting the rare power of a medium. Juan will do anything to keep him from that fate, and tries to give him as normal a life as he can. Sounds vaguely done, yes? And yet.

The book takes place in Argentina not long after Perón seizes power: The river is filled with the bodies of those the army has disappeared, public gatherings are rare, and even the mildest music could be considered antigovernment. Race is an omnipresent, smoldering issue just below the surface; it’s not by accident that the Order chooses mostly indigenous Guaraní children to kidnap and torture, or that the blond descendants of European immigrants are treated very differently from their compatriots.

There are also South American beliefs, magic, and traditions which might be different from what a North American reader is used to. The translator and publisher do a wonderful job of rendering unfamiliar concepts like the “imbunche” as a normalized, integral part of the novel’s world. (Do not, however, search “subcutaneously inserted charms” without bracing yourself first.)

But the real beauty of “Our Share of Night” is in the mundane, unmagical things. A father and son’s complicated road trip to the heart of a family that elevated and may now destroy them both. A child’s afternoon of looking for a lost dog with friends, making posters and putting them up around town. Or the simple progression of a migraine, drawn out over a day—Juan can’t have caffeine or certain painkillers because of a very banal heart condition that is slowly killing him.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal