Review: Perpetual West by Mesha Maren

A Most-Anticipated Book of 2022: Oprah Daily, Electric Literature, Literary Hub, LGBTQ Reads, Business Insider, The Millions, and more

A February 2022 Indie Next Pick


“Stunning . . . A forceful addition to the literature of the U.S.-Mexican border and its ongoing history of tragedy and joy. This is the terrain of Cormac McCarthy, Pat Mora, Roberto Bolaño, Cristina Rivera Garza and the Mexican poet Jorge Humberto Chávez. Maren’s original descriptions of Ciudad Juárez and El Paso richly add to this literary heritage.”

—Jennifer Clement, The New York Times Book Review 


When Alex and Elana move from smalltown Virginia to El Paso, they are just a young married couple, intent on a new beginning. Mexican by birth but adopted by white American Pentecostal parents, Alex is hungry to learn about the place where he was born. He spends every free moment across the border in Juárez—perfecting his Spanish, hanging with a collective of young activists, and studying lucha libre (Mexican wrestling) for his graduate work in sociology. Meanwhile Elana, busy fighting her own demons, feels disillusioned by academia and has stopped going to class. And though they are best friends, Elana has no idea that Alex has fallen in love with Mateo, a lucha libre fighter.

When Alex goes missing and Elana can’t determine whether he left of his own accord or was kidnapped, it’s clear that neither of them has been honest about who they are. Spanning their journey from Virginia to Texas to Mexico, Mesha Maren’s thrilling follow-up to Sugar Run takes us from missionaries to wrestling matches to a luxurious cartel compound, and deep into the psychic choices that shape our identities.

My thoughts

Perpetual West at times is three novels in one. I like the mystery novel best. Alex is missing, but we know where he is and what is happening to him. Will he live? What will be done to him next? Will his lover be able to save him? Or will Neto keep him as a pet or make an example of him? Mesha Maren keeps you on the edge of your seat wondering.

The other two novels within Perpetual West mosey along. Elana’s journey is interesting as she thinks she is on a particular path of self-discovery even if she is confused by it. I will warn you that she is on a path of self-harm but does not recognize it. Her thought process is logical or maybe I suffer from the same ideas. 

Alex’s novel is very disjointed and disappointing. He is exploring his heritage and his identity yet gets caught up in certain freedoms. I don’t know Maren means for this to be a moral on homosexuality or not. 

None of these stories have an ending. Yup, you read it right. Unless Maren intends to write a sequel to West we will never know how we get from Chapter 34 to the Epilogue. It just ends. No answers, just ambiguity. I’m not a huge fan of novels that don’t even answer the mystery (chuckle). I can understand an emotional journey continuing, but how a person goes from being kidnapped to not…should have at least been answered.

I received a free copy of this book and I am writing a review without prejudice and voluntarily.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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Further Details:

Published by: Algonquin Books, 9781643750941, January 25th 2022

Narrated by: Tony Chiroldes

Settings: El Paso, TX, U.S.

Pages: 384

Secondary Characters include: Queer


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