(Reviewed by J.D. Jung)
From the UnderratedReads archives – What You See in the Dark by Manuel Muñoz
“The woman had to live before she could die…Even if it was the vulgarity of real life—the needs and the mistakes, but also the desire to correct them, the effort toward a forgiveness of herself. A woman like that. All those lonely hours. All the things people do to try to escape.”
That’s how the actress evaluates her character as she’s brutally knifed down in that famous shower scene in an unnamed movie-let’s call it “Psycho”. However she–and no one on the movie crew for that matter–realizes how much of this story paralleled real life in the town where they were filming. Perhaps they wouldn’t have cared anyway.
Bakersfield, CA 1959 – Though it’s only about 100 miles from Los Angeles, this central valley farm town couldn’t be further from all of the glamour. Residents dream of leaving for a better life, maybe to even go to Hollywood; however they know that they probably never will. That includes Arlene Watson, owner of the Watson Motel. Though she still dreams, she is resistant to change.
That wasn’t the case for Teresa Garza’s mother, though. She followed her dream and left Bakersfield and her daughter. Teresa, now twenty-three year old, works as an unappreciated shoe clerk, living on top of a bowling alley. She believes that nothing ever changes in Bakersfield and definitely not for her; that is, until she catches the eye of Dan Watson, a handsome bachelor. Then she too romanticizes about a better life for herself. Unfortunately that is not to be.
Change, dreams, jealousy and murder are all intertwined in this stylish noir thriller. Yes, What You See in the Dark is all about style- Hitchcock-like style- with a dark setting, bleak mood and damaged characters.
Though this novel is from multiple perspectives, Author Manuel Muñoz doesn’t let the reader get too close to the characters. Even some questions are left unanswered and resolutions are not that clear. However I can live with that; it’s the journey that makes this page-turner exciting on so many levels.
Muñoz takes us on some fascinating detours. We visit the set of the shower scene and how the cast and crew prepare for it both physically and emotionally. We peek into the mind of the actress and even the director over a decade later as he deals with the concept of change and death in film.
“The Americans were always good at dying, but not death. Good at plot, but not fatalism.”
For fans of the Hitchcock style, this is a must read. Still for others, if you’re craving a thriller that’s mesmerizing as well as unique, then What You See in the Dark is my pick for you.