2024 Tournament of Books: The Guest vs The Shamshine Blind

The Guest promises chaos in the person of Alex, a call girl who’s on the run from a previous client from whom she stole a large sum of money and who had been hiding out in the Hamptons with a newer client until he grows bored of her presence and the fact that she damaged his car without telling her. Rather than returning to Manhattan as her previous host had expected, she decides to try to wait until her host”s Labor Day party thinking that this would be the opportunity to reconcile with him and return to his care and protection. Along the way, she insinuates herself into a series of situations where despite herself, she manages to leave things always a little worse than she found them. It’s a great setup for a novel and Cline does a decent job of ratcheting things, but I found that the chaos was perhaps not as chaotic as I hoped and the promised denouement where everything comes together at the end—well, spoilers here, the end is left unsatisfyingly truncated.

Paz Pardo’s The Shamshine Blind is a science fiction-y alternate history scenario in which Argentina beat the combined NATO forces in the Falklands War of the 80s thanks to pigment-based biochemical weaponry which the defeated Americans then transmogrify into drugs, both therapeutic and recreational, combining different pigments to create emotional journeys. The plot is a noir-style detective story set in the post-war Bay Area where San Francisco has become a hazardous wasteland thanks to being one of the targets of the Argentine pigment attacks. The mystery starts out convoluted but Pardo does a good job of bringing together the various strands to a satisfying conclusion. The whole thing is rather daring and her risks pay off, plus the whole role reversal of Latin American–United States relations (American immigration to Argentina is highly restricted) is delicious fun. In case it isn’t obvious by now, my choice for the winner of this round is The Shamshine Blind.

My judgment on the judgment

After reading Isaac Fellman’s description of The Guest, I felt sure he was going to advance The Shamshine Blind but it turned out that he had even stronger criticisms of The Shamshine Blind some of which I can see (Shamshine took a while for me to get into its world). I still think that ultimately The Shamshine Blind was the stronger work.






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