Multi-faceted, creative powerhouse Leopoldo Gout’s latest novel Piñata is a visceral possession story that brings together supernatural and real life horrors with a keen look at the brutal legacy of colonial violence that persists today.
Described as “A Head Full of Ghosts meets Hereditary”, Piñata follows Carmen Sanchez and her two daughters; Izel, the slightly surly teen, and Luna, the wide-eyed 11-year old open and full of wonder for the world around her. Carmen is an architect from New York working on-site at a project in Mexico refurbishing and repurposing an old church into a luxury hotel. Izel and Luna are along for the ride over summer vacations as Carmen hopes they can connect to their heritage through immersion in the local culture.
What begins as a hopeful quest for exploring their identities quickly becomes a tense nightmare as Luna is targeted by dark and hungry forces intent on bringing about the end of the world. After local Nahua woman, Yoltzi, tries to warn Carmen of the danger Luna is in, things begin to unravel until an accident at the work site means the Sanchezes have to head back to New York.
Heading home is not the end of their troubles as the worst is yet to come for this small family with visions, accidents and misfortune falling on them at every turn. Luna is almost entirely consumed by the ancient spirits intent on using her as a portal into the physical realm. Piñata is full of dark imagery that pulls at the sanity of its characters and, if one word could describe it, that would be ominous.
The story pulls you in different directions; for all that you want Luna and her family to survive, Piñata has been framed in such a way that you can empathise with these spirits trying to exact their revenge on the colonisers who tortured and slaughtered their people centuries ago. These spirits aren’t strictly framed as ‘evil’, and even try to protect Luna from bullies at school; their revenge feels justifiable, which adds something more complex to your average possession story.
Piñata also delves into cultural erasure as a key theme; the concept of a piñata itself being formed through stages of cultural erasure, the Nahua culture erased by colonisers, Mexican culture being erased by widespread violence, and the culture of the Sanchezes themselves seen in Carmen putting up a façade to make herself palatable in corporate America, or Izel wanting to change her name to something “normal”.
This was an excellent read, well written and executed with dark, visceral themes, imagery, and events. Piñata is a hall of mirrors, reflecting back on itself and its themes throughout to superb effect. The tension is maintained right to the end and even down to the last 20 pages it is difficult to tell which way the ending will go. A tight and vibrant horror novel that will keep you thinking.