What You See in the Dark: A review

What You See in the DarkYou know the scene. The actress is standing under a stream of running water. You get a glimpse of her collarbone, of her calf. You understand that she is at her most vulnerable. You worry something horrible is going to happen. And then it does.

The shower scene from Psycho has become one of the most legendary and recognizable moments in film history. So much has been said, analyzed, parodied from Psycho that you might think that there is nothing new to be explored, but What You See in the Dark is evidence that this is not true. In his past short story collections, Manuel Muñoz has revealed his stellar lyricism in prose and skillful craft of individual stories and in his debut novel, he seamlessly weaves in and out of voices, in and out of parallel narratives to reveal something about the intricate nature of human beings' motivations, desires, and fears.

Set against the backdrop of the filming of Psycho in the 1950s, Muñoz crafts the community of Bakersfield, whose characters, locales, and narrative risings and fallings thread through to the film's story. The book is a visceral experience, at moments even confrontational in its approach, which forces the reader to reflect on their own relationship to desire, to death and the ways in which these attitudes are individual as well as informed by our collective American psyche.

What You See In The Dark is about what we permit ourselves to see and what lingers there in the dark corners of our minds. A mark of a great book, Muñoz's novel provokes questions that remain in the readers' mind long after the last page is turned and the cover closed.

--Lisa O'Neill

Manuel Muñoz is the author of What You See in the Dark (Algonquin Books, 2011), The Faith Healer of Olive Avenue (Algonquin, 2007), and Zigzagger (Northwestern University Press, 2003). Winner of the 2008 Whiting Writers' Award, he teaches in the MFA program in Creative Writing at the University of Arizona.

Manuel Muñoz will read at the University of Arizona Poetry Center with colleague and poet Barbara Cully on Thursday, September 1, 2011 at 7:00 p.m. The reading is the first in the Poetry Center's 2011-12 Readings & Lectures Series, and is free and open to the public.

Created on: 
Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Arizona Board of Regents