By Melanie Romero
~Espooky~ season is upon us! As the autumnal weather trickles in one leaf at a time, our iced lattes turn into warm cups of cafecito and our summer shorts are exchanged for our beloved swapmeet cobijas; there’s nothing better than staying inside during this season, accompanied by a good book. But, what exactly defines a good book? Well, if you’re looking to support Latinx writers and a lover of all things legends, folktales, and myths or just another fanatic of the elements of Halloween and/or Día de Muertos with a bit of gore and mystery, then the list below is just for you. So, readers beware, you’re in for a scare!
A Night of Screams: Latino Horror Stories edited by Richard Z. Santos
This collection of horror stories is a fresh take on Latin American lore, reimagining our beloved legends of La Llorona and El Chupacabras, all the while also exploring ghosts, zombies, and shadows. Although the collection itself follows different stories, from an old woman making tamales on mars after a rocket crash and a prima receiving phone calls from her cousin after her death at the hands of Hurricane María, the edition embarks on a spooky journey full of blood and gore, mystery and suspense. In his introduction, Santos dives into the real but clandestine spookiness lurking below the surface of these stories: demonization of Latinos through centuries of institutionalized racism. But, it’s only those that can read between the lines to see what these Latinx horror authors are truly trying to reflect as a haunting reality.
GOLDEN LINE: “We’ll be dead by the time you finish your goddamn tamales.”
The Haunting of Alejandra by V. Castro
V. Castro flips the traditional folklore of La Llorona on its head with the publication of her book, The Haunting of Alejandra. She introduces us to Alejandra, a modern-day woman who desires to understand the generational curse that has befallen the women in her family since colonial arrival in fourteenth-century Mexico. Alejandra begins to witness a woman in white who whispers macabre phrases to her, and Alejandra assumes it’s a manifestation of an undiagnosed mental illness. She turns to therapist-turned-curandera, Melanie, who attempts to untangle the generational curse that has been haunting not only Alejandra, but also the women in her lineage. This story is an exploration of motherhood, mental health, generational trauma, and post-trauma healing, and Castro weaves them together in parallel to folklore and history, realism and surrealism, present and past.
GOLDEN LINE: “For years she abandoned herself to be a willing sacrifice to please everyone around her, and now nothing existed within her anymore. Even her own hand was not a hand at all, but a blade she used to carve her heart for anyone who asked her for it.”
Our Share of Night by Mariana Enriquez
In Enriquez’s novel, starting off in 1981 in Argentina (at the conclusion of the Dirty War), father (whose a medium) and son (who has inherited his father’s gift) set out on a road trip following the sudden death of their wife and mother respectively. They arrive at her ancestral home, only to discover that her once-beloved legacy is ruined by the Order, an organization that commits unspeakable acts in search of their immortality. The Order desires the son, and Juan, the father, will do anything in his power to ensure his protection. But, as Juan succumbs to a fatal birth defect, Gaspar the son is left to his own devices, and the reader witnesses as he goes from child to adult. Argentina’s national politics, aflame with turbulence and violence, overshadow the Order’s sinister conspiracies, and this is a carefully thought-out choice by Enriquez to blur the lines between reality and fiction, political hell and horror-laden elements.
GOLDEN LINE: “Ghosts are real. And the ones who come aren’t always the ones you’ve called.”
Monstrilio by Gerardo Sámano Córdova
Monstrilio, debut novel of Córdova, is a novel rooted in the immensity of grief and how its existence creates monsters out of all of us; the book opens with the death of a child named Santiago, whose parents sit next to his deathbed. Santiago’s mother proceeds to split her son’s body open, cutting out a piece of his lung, so she can keep it as a memento. She leaves New York before fleeing to her mother’s house in Mexico, where she hears a fairytale about how a woman fed a young girl’s heart until it magically grew into a person. Although the mother is threatened to NOT feed the lung, she does so anyway, causing the lung to grow into a monster. Córdova’s story is a mixture of surrealism mixed in with tragedy and horror, with grief at the nexus. The monster is a personification of the intangible grief and how it instills human feelings into a family recently broken by such a loss.
GOLDEN LINE: “I wanted him to snap, to finally and absolutely lose it. To break. He was withering. To wither is not the same as to break; to break is to have pieces to put back together, and to wither is to dry up, to wilt, to lose bone, to die, and death is the most boring.”
Silver Nitrate by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Silvia Moreno-Garcia is no amateur when it comes to horror books. She’s wildly popular for her 2020 supernatural novel, Mexican Gothic, a slow-burn tale that latches onto the “heart” of a haunted gothic mansion that holds more secrets than answers. Silver Nitrate, on the other hand, focuses on the magical realities trapped in the grooves of vinyl records. “Silver nitrate” is the chemical basis found in film stock, phased out in the 1950s due to its flammable volatility; if it catches fire, it burns fast and hot and is virtually inextinguishable; the substance was not only used by filmmakers to film the classics during the golden age of cinema, but also by the military to make explosives. The story takes place in Mexico City; the year is 1993. The stars of the story are Tristán, a former telenovela actor whose career has been derailed by hard drugs and a car accident, the latter which killed his movie-star girlfriend, and Montserrat, a sound editor at a laughable film studio. Tristán meets his neighbor, Abel Ureta, an ex-director who released three magnificent films in the 1950s that are now “a mere footnote in the history of entertainment.” Tristán discovers that Abel never finished his magnum opus, titled Beyond the Yellow Door; Wilhelm Ewers, a Nazi occultist who immigrated to Mexico, was behind the movie’s treatment, convincing the cast and crew that, by shooting on silver nitrate, the film’s power would enhance its magical qualities. But, after Ewers dies from a mugging, the film is left in production hell, and everyone associated with the movie would befall a string of catastrophes and career failures. Moreno-Garcia’s novel is a two-in-one story that flits between two eras of filmmaking. Like the volatile film stock, this book, with the same name, catches fire, burning to the end.
GOLDEN LINE: “The first week of December. It was the season to devour empanadas, eat rosca de reyes, and listen to the fireworks exploding late at night. He was hoping to drink all the way through the posadas—he’d work off the calories in January. It was not the month to be chasing after murderers.”
Oftentimes, when we pick up a “horror” book, there’s a deep belief that it must illustrate an alternate universe abound with blood, monsters, and weapons, sprinkled with themes about the loss of humanity and the soullessness of existence. And, these books above do, in fact, incorporate some or all of these elements. But, the beauty behind these horror novels are the authors’ reclamations of the stories they grew up with—childhood stories about legends, folktales, and myths of Latin America; the novelists offer a personification of those modern-day fears through a horror lens influenced by culture and roots. So, if you’re on the lookout for your next horror read in parallel to the spooky season, may this list keep you company in the middle of the night and take you down to your next horrifying scare. Just remember to keep the lights on and eat a bolillo for el susto…
Melanie Romero is a trilingual writer born and raised in Orange, CA. It was during childhood weekend trips to Randy’s $1-a-book stall at the OC Market Place that she discovered a passion for reading and, eventually, writing. Today, she serves as Editor at Lil’ Libros and has written two children’s books, Amor de colores and J is for Janucá under the publisher. In her free time, she can be found indulging in challah and getting lost among the shelves of independent bookstores.
Starting February 2023, #OffThePage is featuring Melanie Romero as our monthly columnist. Our Arts & Culture column was initially founded by local journalist Gabriel San Román in May 2020. Since then we have collaboratively featured over 25 stories and paid nearly 10 contributors from our community. Pitch Melanie a story or email us for more information!