Rating: 5 out of 5
Theresa Varela’s Coney Island Siren is a little outside my regular reading–more literary fiction than genre fiction–but I picked it up in a Latinx “dark fiction” storybundle.
First, a warning. Content note for emotional and physical domestic violence, partner rape, and drug use. Not just a line or two, or a scene or two, but the whole theme of the book. A number of you might want to skip this one; it’s hard to read. That said, it’s written extremely well.
Maggie is a nurse; her boyfriend Frank is a police officer. He’s handsome and charming, but we quickly see that something isn’t quite right about their relationship. Maggie’s “intuition” leads her to an old journal, in which she reads about the life of Ellen, a young maid whose own life echoes Maggie’s in eerie ways. Dulce Fortunato is Maggie’s best friend and another nurse on the same ward. Dulce has been trying to encourage Maggie to leave Frank, but she’s losing her patience. It doesn’t help that Maggie has started stealing patients’ pain meds, not to mention getting dope, and more, from Frank. When Frank gives Maggie a head injury, she starts to unravel. Things get strange. She seems to be imagining things that haven’t happened.
The characters are excellent. There’s a nurse’s aide named Mrs. Graham who could have easily been the stereotypical gossipy, judgmental, lazy nurse, but her attention and caring toward her charges belies that. We can see at the beginning that Maggie is a nurse who cares about her job, but as she slips deeper into despair and drug use, not to mention some brain damage, that unravels. Dulce really does try to be there for Maggie, and by the time she starts pulling away we can understand why.
It’s hard to say whether there’s anything paranormal about this story. Maggie mentions seeing auras at one point. Her “intuition” is never delved into very far. Not that it particularly matters to the story one way or the other, but it becomes an interesting question.
Thanks to Ellen’s journal, which Maggie reads at intervals, we sort of get two abusive relationships for the price of one.
This was an intriguing read, and in some ways it could really benefit from a re-read. I don’t think I could bring myself to re-read all of that abuse, however.
If you get a chance, check out the Book Trailer https://youtu.be/B-0zlvMRcXs
Thanks for sharing–that’s gorgeous!!