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What You See in the Dark Hardcover – March 29, 2011
"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
Don't miss best-selling author Kwame Alexander's "Rebound," a new companion novel to his Newbery Award-winner, "The Crossover,"" illustrated with striking graphic novel panels. Pre-order today
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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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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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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.
At the heart of `What You See in the Dark' is a story about aspirations, self-doubt and regret. It uses these three women as benchmarks to represent various stages in life. You have Teresa, the young wounded soul, suffering from hesitation in her own convictions and yet she's a dreamer, and a dreamer who can see those dreams coming true with the right push. Then you have the actress, a young woman who has achieved those dreams and yet is sacked to the soul with internal self-doubt, which conflicts with her growth. She aspires to be a better actress than she perceives herself as being, and so while the world watches her every move and contemplates her happiness, she is ransacked by feelings of inadequacy. And then you have Arlene, the aged single mother trying to fit in with the younger waitresses on her job and trying to rear her son in the right path, although his actions leave her disappointed. He's unreliable, like every other teenager, and his running around with Teresa leave Arlene bitter. She's already bitter from her loneliness and jilted by her past, and she's constantly plagued by regret in her own `lack of actions' and dissipation of aspirations. She is what Teresa most likely would have become, had life not taken a deadlier course.
Emotional resonance abounds in this masterful debut. Munoz is a poet, honestly. I was lured in by the very first sentence, and the pages just churned with such ease thanks to Munoz's brilliant grasp of language and character development. Even secondary character like the semi-narration by the jealous girls in town watching Teresa with envy are full of richly realized backstory. You understand how they fit perfectly into the scope of this tale, and their presence is just as haunting as the three woman at the core of this book.
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.