RARA-AVIS: Rereading Dia de Los Muertos

From: William Denton ( wtd@pobox.com)
Date: 21 Sep 2005

I just finished rereading DIA DE LOS MUERTOS and what I said when I first read it still stands: febrile insanity. The scene of Calhoun, suffering from hemorrhagic dengue fever, eyes bleeding, sweating blood, system racing because a veterinarian gave him a shot of horse amphetamines, pushing a 500 pound man on a refrigerator dolly up a hill, where he meets a gang, gets stabbed, and shoots one of the gang up through the jaw, is a classic. That's not the half of it, though: everything that could go wrong, does; everyone is on the take; it's the Day of the Dead and Tijuana is starting to riot, fascists are starting to kill people they hate, a bank is robbed, Calhoun shoots people in the street, Chinese women vomit heroin at the border, everything is out of control.

Kent, you mentioned wanting to do a novel that was collapsed into one day
(almost), and how a novelist has more power over time than a film-maker. Also, you said, "perhaps the picture of Tijuana that seems to be the blue print for all cities now is 'new'. (What one economist called private opulence and public squalor.)" Did you start with the idea of Tijuana in one day (the Day of the Dead) and then take it from there? Did the people-smuggling follow from that, or was that something you wanted to write about first?

Every now and then we debate definitions of "hardboiled" and "noir." The Jack Bludis Heresy says that hardboiled is tough, and noir is screwed, and that's all there is to it. There's some hope here and there in DIA, such as the boy who wants a father and almost has the chance for a family, but it doesn't get anywhere. The family wouldn't have worked anyway. Calhoun's chasing money down the drain and getting more into trouble every hour. Everyone is screwed.

But wait, some of the people who make it into the US aren't screwed. The young Guatemalan couple in particular--they might have been killed if Calhoun hadn't taken them over, but whatever happens to them in the US, they have guts, and they have each other.


William Denton : Toronto, Canada : www.miskatonic.org : www.frbr.org

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