Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2011-01-17
- Reviewer: Staff
Muñoz, the author of two short story collections (The Faith Healer of Olive Avenue and Zigzagger), uses the second-person voice to draw the reader into his stellar first novel. In 1959, the Director (i.e., Alfred Hitchcock) arrives in Bakersfield, Calif., to film Psycho, along with the Actress (i.e., Janet Leigh), who's struggling to get a handle on the character she will portray. Providing counterpoint to the events surrounding the making of the iconic Hollywood film, including the search for a motel to serve as the exterior of the Bates Motel, is the story of locals Dan Watson and Teresa Garza, whose doomed love affair ends in murder. The author brilliantly presents the Actress's inner thoughts, while he handles the violence with a subtlety worthy of Hitchcock himself. The lyrical prose and sensitive portrayal of the crime's ripple effect in the small community elevate this far beyond the typical noir. 10-city author tour. (Mar.)
Exploring the shadowy corners of the mind
At the start of this quiet yet confident debut novel by Manuel Muñoz, there is much for the people of the lonely city of Bakersfield to be gossiping about. The famous actress Janet Leigh and director Alfred Hitchcock have just arrived to shoot scenes for Psycho. But Bakersfield doesn’t need to wait for that film to be released, as a much more real horror presents itself right in town—a young Mexican woman, Teresa, is found murdered, and her boyfriend, Dan Watson, has conveniently disappeared.
In different hands, a story like this would likely turn into a no-holds-barred murder mystery. Instead Muñoz wisely focuses his attention on the private dilemmas of three vastly different women. He gives us the shy and independent Teresa, who longs for love and dreams of becoming a famous singer, and Janet Leigh, torn between acting and motherhood, and terribly fearful about her own abilities and about appearing all but naked in front of the camera. And then there is Arlene Watson, Dan’s mother—a hardened woman who knows the meaning of abandonment. It is Arlene who really holds the narrative together. Leigh and Teresa never cross paths, but Arlene has encounters with both women. She is there after the gossip dies down about Leigh, and she is there after Teresa’s death, left to face the rumors of her son’s awful crime.
What You See in the Dark is at its best when it goes where film cannot go—into the interior places of thought. Yes, there is violence. But Muñoz does not simply portray the horror of it that makes us scream; rather, he allows us to see the repercussions of violence—the rumors and the insinuations and the lies. This is a gentle story, full of loss and regret.