The Mists (Finishing Line Press, 2020) by Barbara de la Cuesta is a novella set in an undetermined time following three young adults from Chicago as they take a trip to El Salvador. Due to unfortunate mishaps, the trio never makes it to the intended destination (Willi’s uncle’s farm) and end up in a small town in Central America. Barbara de la Cuesta worked as a journalist in Central America and is fluent in both English and Spanish. The Mists does a noteworthy job of intermingling both languages in the books. If the reader only speaks English, the Spanish portions can usually be understood through context. In the rare cases that the language cannot be understood through context, the translations are always worth the work to get them.
The three main characters, Willi, Carl, and Blanche are on a journey of self-discovery when they decide to take a trip to Central America. Willi and Carl leave the United States burdened by an intensifying dislike for their home country. When asked why they came to Central America, Carl begins to think about them “nursing bottles of ale and a growing grudge against the country his German Socialist father had chosen to emigrate to in the Forties.” Willi, a Maoist, is looking for “real work” while Carl is searching “for beauty, for goodness… but it was a much too embarrassing thing to say.” Blanche, meanwhile, never says exactly what she is looking for, though Carl mentions a couple of times that he wants her to be happy and that she is a person that needs freedom. During their journey, Carl connects with Don Rafa and his wife, who end up being intertwined tightly with what the three are looking for. At the end of the novel, both Carl and Willi found what they wanted in different ways, yet Blanche said that all she’d found there was death.
The Mists is an intriguing novel about dissatisfaction with one’s own country and how this translates to people in different, and possibly worse, circumstances. Much of the novel focuses on political unrest and cultural traditions in Central America. The ending of the novel is set during Nochebuena and the holiday’s traditions are discussed in detail. This event is used to mount tensions between a character’s pregnancy, Blanche’s devolving psyche, and the kidnapping done by people opposed to a democracy that is described as “‘a fraud which the upper classes use to dominate the masses.’” Relating this back to their own experiences in the U.S., Carl and Willi involve themselves in the kidnapping. The time period is ambiguous, which allows the reader to apply the novel to a variety of times and situations, though the narrative is very frank in style. The Mists takes itself very seriously with its search for something more in a world that refuses to give these characters what they want in the way they hoped. The ending of the novel creates an ominous tone with the trio, who had originally begun the journey together, splitting up. Blanche went back to the U.S. while “Don Rafa and The Doňa would not be associated with anything Willi did in the future. Nor would Carl.” The end gives off the sense that both characters are still in the mists, looking and searching for what cannot be found.
Amber Beck is a graduate student at Chatham University in Pittsburgh, PA studying for her MFA in Creative Writing and Publishing. She has been published for her fiction and poetry in Zephyr and Rejection Letters, has poetry and a short fiction piece forthcoming in Calliope and Bindweed Magazine, and won first place in NEA’s 2021 Big Read’s writing contest. She is currently a volunteer editor for 101 Words and is the editor for Chatham’s MFA newsletter.
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