Untamed Shore by Silvia Moreno-Garcia is an #OwnVoices Latinx novel that takes place in the late 1970s and is about a young girl named Viridiana who is hired to be a translator for three Americans that are visiting Baja California. When one of them turns up dead, she’s caught in a web of deceit where she must decide whether she’s the hunted or the hunter. When I first heard some amazing Latinx book reviewers mention this book as one of their most anticipated for 2020, I went ahead and checked it out from the library upon its release. I’m so glad that I did because Untamed Shore was a darkly twisted delight.
The novel is advertised as being a thriller, but I would argue that it’s far more a noir mystery than anything else. It doesn’t have the same sense of exhilaration and heart-pounding intensity that is common amongst thrillers. Instead, it’s far more methodical and transfixing in its execution. There is a spectacular vibrancy to the examination of small-town life and this almost desperate need to escape it, which when combined with the scorching undercurrents of mythology, contrasting cultures, and the unfiltered frustrations of being a young female in an intolerably conservative community, create an irresistibly wicked tale.
Untamed Shore is as sparse as Baja California with a terse prose that also manages to offer an incredibly vivid depiction of the settings, characters, and the atmosphere of what it feels like to be stifled with responsibilities that are nothing more than a practise of tradition and humdrum generational expectations. These combined with the subtly sharp cultural contrasts (wealthy American vs small-town Mexican and the gender roles of both) were elements that I couldn’t help but devour greedily.
The overarching plot of Untamed Shore is somewhat clichéd and predictable, nevertheless, the lushness of the Latinx representation and cultural exploration makes a somewhat dull genre feel fresh and lively. Moreno-Garcia’s ability to season the monotonous with unexpected intrigue is positively superb.
She’d always been so afraid that the land would eat her, but it was obvious now that the answer was you had to eat it.”
Even with all of these excellent qualities, the best is Viridiana. She is part unreliable narrator, part heroine you want to root for, part naïve teenager, and all around hunter down to the very marrow of her bones, one that I feel was bred more out of circumstance, excruciating boredom, and the toxic pressures of familial expectations. The complexities of her persona and the things she yearns for help to develop the narrative with further nuances of sensuous wickedness.
Overall, Untamed Shore was a surprise I didn’t see coming. The story starts a bit slowly, but after the Americans show up things gradually begin to pick up speed, matching the waves of Viridiana’s emotions, which helped allay the uncertainty I first felt in that it may be too slow of a reading for me. It proved me wrong and then some. I don’t think I would recommend this novel to fans of thrillers, specifically folx who prefer the storytelling dynamics of authors like Karin Slaughter or Riley Sager, for example. Instead, I would highly recommend Untamed Shore to readers of classic, noir whodunits and fans of vintage cinema, especially if you like culturally rich connotations and full-bodied character expositions.
CW: Domestic Abuse. Sexual harassment & intimidation.
4.25 shark teeth outta 5!
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