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What You See in the Dark Hardcover – March 29, 2011

3.9 out of 5 stars 24 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. 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.)
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From Booklist

Mu�oz (The Faith Healer of Olive Avenue, 2007) has hit upon a killer premise: the making of Psycho (with appearances by the �actress� and the �director�) set against the real-life murder of a young Latina singer in Bakersfield. The two stories come together in the beginning, when the actress and the director visit Bakersfield, scouting locations that could be used for the external shots of the Bates Motel. They find one, but the owner turns them down, miffed that the actress refused to acknowledge who she was earlier in the day, when she ate at the local diner. With that thin filament connecting the plots, Mu�oz expertly jumps from the making of the Hitchcock film�including, of course the shower scene, as experienced by the actress�to the sad story of the small-town murder and the lives of the locals who were affected by the crime. Mood connects the two stories, that sense of melancholy foreboding that lurked behind so many 1950s noir films, and Mu�oz expertly evokes the way quiet desperation can explode into life-altering violence. --Bill Ott

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books; First Edition edition (March 29, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1565125339
  • ISBN-13: 978-1565125339
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 0.9 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #520,905 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By "switterbug" Betsey Van Horn TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 26, 2011
Format: Hardcover
What do you see in the dark? Well, that partly depends on your perspective. In Munoz's stylistic mise-en-scène novel, the second-person point of view frames the watchful eye and disguises the wary teller. Reading this story is like peering through Hitchcock's lens--the camera as observer's tool and observer as camera--with light and shadow and space concentrated and dispersed frame by frame, sentence by sentence.

Munoz applied the famous director's noir techniques to create a story about murder, madness, and longing amid the desire and antipathy of a working-class California town. Lives intersect, scenes juxtapose, and shades of gray color the landscape of the novel. Scenes of tenderness dovetail with acts of menace, plaintive music integrates with the rattling of chains, dark interiors annex the stark white heat of day.

In the hushed and dusty working-class town of Bakersfield, California, in the late 1950's, the locals jealously watch the fresh and guarded romance of Dan and Teresa. Dan is the rugged bartender/guitarist and sexy son of Arlene, a bitter waitress at the downtown café and the abandoned wife of a motel owner out on the changing Highway 99.

Teresa, a shoe saleswoman and aspiring singer, is the willowy Mexican-American daughter of a mother who left her to chase dreams of love in Texas. The narrow-minded prejudices of the town encroach upon the open bud of romance, and the ill-fated romance takes an ineluctable bloody turn. We know from the start that someone dies, but it is the why and how and where that sustains the tension of the story.

At the height of Dan and Teresa's love story, the glitter and fantasy of Hollywood comes to Bakersfield as the crew arrives to shoot select scenes of a revolutionary new film.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is a well-balanced, highbrow, page-turner. It succeeds on the base mystery level--a dead body, several possible culprits, a few steamy scenes, etc. But it excels on a more cerebral, more aesthetic, level. It is a beautiful book, and it wrings that beauty from the smallest of details. It trains the mystery reader who scours the text for clues to look, in the same demanding way, for something more. That the prose pays off under such scrutiny is no mean feat.

It's rare to find a novel this well-paced. High literature that works within the conventions of more popular literature, this book draws more from Hitchcock than simply a character. Psycho, after all, is at one and the same time high art and sensational pap. The key is that Hitchcock made the art from the pap, not in tension against it. And that's Munoz's success as well: this book raises deep and complex emotions in the reader, and it does so not despite, but because it satisfies so well the basic human desire for story and sensation.

This is a must for summer reading lists this year. It is smart and plenty dark enough for the rainy day, but it is compelling and light on its feet enough for the beach as well.

One final note: you do not have to see Psycho in order to understand the novel. But for those who have, the book's vision of the film and its actress is a rare treat.
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Format: Hardcover
Munoz captures love, loss, violence and profound loneliness in 1950s Bakersfield, California, through the intimate characterization of three women in this beautifully rendered novel: the Actress (unnamed) and locals Arlene Watson and Teresa Garza. Teresa's is a fringe existence, her solitary occupancy of an apartment over the town bowling alley, a position in a shoe store, where she is only called from the back room when her fluency in Spanish is required, the hours before work she spends walking or peering into shop windows without the money to purchase what they offer, watched covertly by day workers, one in particular: "They knew her. They knew about her. They knew all about her." But when Dan Watson, Bakersfield's best catch, takes an interest in this young woman, Teresa's future suddenly rings with promise: "Maybe her own life could be an existence others could dream about."

Brad's mother, Arlene, spends her days waiting tables behind the plate glass window of a local diner, her evenings tending the roadside motel her husband left behind when he walked away from wife and son. An anomaly in this quiet city, the Actress arrives in a limo with plans to meet her Director, scouting this location for the ground-breaking film that will introduce a new kind of violence to American audiences, a stunning blend of madness and murder: "For hurt to matter, she thought, you had to be beautiful." Though the Actress is only passing through, she is critical to an intricate plot on a small town stage, a main street made irrelevant by a nearly-completed freeway, 1950s Bakersfield awakened from a long slumber by Munoz's elegant, fluid prose.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Not really the kind of style or category I usually read. This book seems more like it was written for the purpose of showcasing Bakersfield nostalgia. Even in that area it lacks with emphasis on a few sites locals will recognize (I am not from Bakersfield but I am familiar with the area). There are two main story lines with one of them being written from a few different perspectives. The main story lines really don't touch each other more than on an inconsequential level. The story is basically that something went down in Bakersfield and some people scouting locations for a famous film happened to be in town in the lead up but really had no impact on the situation.
If the writer was going for an expression of the similarity between the content of the movie and the events in the book, the only similarities are that a girl is killed, there is a motel though it has nothing to do with the killing itself, and there is a mother and a son, and the son is one of the suspects in the girls death. The way the stories play out are completely different.
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