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Signal to Noise

by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

For her debut novel, Silvia Moreno-Garcia attempts to wed disparate literary genres. While not entirely successful, her efforts nonetheless signal a writer with evident gusto for complex storytelling.

Signal-to-NoiseThe first genre involves a character study focused on retrospective stocktaking. After nearly two decades residing in Europe, Meche returns to Mexico City in 2009, where her dour mother has organized a proper novena for her atheist ex-husband. Embittered, hostile, and wandering her old neighbourhood in body but not spirit, Meche has
retained a catalogue of resentments about her parents (her mother was stern and cold, her deceased father a weak alcoholic dreamer) and the “tired ruin” of her hometown.

None of the characters is sympathetic or particularly fascinating; Moreno-Garcia prompts readers to question why Meche’s wounds seem so fresh and what must have gone wrong for this sour thirtysomething computer specialist to become so unpleasant. As she sorts through her father’s record-strewn apartment and reconnects with ex-friends, Meche’s stony demeanour softens in gradual increments.

The second genre aligns the novel with a popular strand of YA fiction. Moreno-Garcia alternates each of the contemporary chapters with ones set in 1988, when Meche was a hateful and petulant 15-year-old. With her two equally scorned, music-loving friends she makes a discovery: certain records are warm to the touch, and these powerful discs enable the trio to cast spells.

In keeping with the shopworn tropes of teen witch dramas like The Secret Circle and The Craft (rather than, say, the Harry Potter series), the youths quarrel about the appropriate use and targets of magic. Despite requisite sage words from Meche’s grandmother (a former hex caster herself) – that magic is a dangerous and unpredictable weapon – the three proceed with spells to alter their social status or retaliate against wrongdoers like teachers and members of the in-crowd. Facing Meche’s growing power and insatiable rage (she’s described as “thin and flat as a board, pimpled, dark of complexion and intentions”), the teen witches create more havoc than bounty.

In marrying these two genres, Moreno-Garcia does not really extend the boundaries of the familiar plot devices she’s working with. Her writing hints at gifts for invention and empathy, though, which hold promise for her next undertaking.