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  • Brittany Torres Rivera

Extended Stay by Juan Martinez





















Extended Stay by Juan Martinez | University of Arizona Press | January 2023 | Pages: 320 | ISBN: 9780816547975


 

“He felt too young, wrong for the job…He had no business taking care of his sister. He had no business telling her that everything was going to work out, though he said it. He said it and he did not believe it and he could tell Carmen didn’t believe it either.” –Juan Martinez, Extended Stay (The University of Arizona Press, 2023)


After witnessing his family’s violent death, Alvaro leaves Colombia for Las Vegas with his sister, Carmen, and ends up at the Alicia, a decrepit hotel whose elusive management and rotting walls threaten to swallow them whole.


The setting of Extended Stay was one of the principal features that drew me to the novel. Las Vegas, a gilded city fraught with dreams of riches, a veneer of success that epitomizes both the hope and the near-impossibility of wealth under capitalism which I associate with the defunct American Dream. In our email interview, Juan Martinez acknowledged that, though “rich with suggestive power,” the decision to set Alvaro’s story in a rotting hotel in sin city was “practically an exorcism”; “the moment I left Vegas I couldn’t get it out of my head.” The Alicia hotel and casino drives Alvaro to exhibit behavior aligned with depictions of Vegas: risking it all to get paid. Facing life-threatening circumstances, as walls consume other employees and hallways transform into labyrinths before him, Alvaro returns again and again, delaying his escape until he is paid for his labor. This determination is born of trauma as much as of desperation.


Like any good horror movie, Extended Stay had me yelling just get out! at the protagonist. But Alvaro’s insistence on helping Carmen (by getting paid) or supporting the search for missing employees is rooted in his grief. Alvaro lives with the guilt of killing his younger sister, Alba, forced by the men who murdered his parents. He keeps this a secret from Carmen, and this deceit clouds him as the Alicia feeds on his trauma, inciting violent thoughts where they wouldn’t otherwise exist. “There are multiple strands of narrative voices sneaking into Alvaro’s voice (and consciousness),” Martinez told me. Alvaro considers hurting his sister and a dog named Clarabelle, an idea the novel attributes to the influence of the Alicia. This is a popular tool in the horror genre: “you can assign blame on an inanimate object for thoughts and behavior that properly belong to the self,” explained Martinez. What keeps Carmen (and Clarabelle) safe is her inherent honesty, preserving her lucidity while Alvaro descends into rot-induced disorientation.


Honesty is not as straightforward as it seems in Extended Stay. Although Alvaro’s hidden guilt consumes him, the truth doesn’t necessarily set him free. During his battle against the encroaching hotel, Alvaro finds its Lost and Found full of old photos and histories, and he is forced to feed the Alicia his past. But when the hotel isn’t satiated, he shares other stories, invented stories, stories from television shows and movies, to no discernibly different effect. Throughout Extended Stay, Alvaro struggles to distinguish memory from invention and separate his experiences and identity from his father’s. Martinez described how Alvaro’s fluid memory relates to his displacement: “So much of what you end up cherishing[–] when you move from one country to another– becomes both fixed in place but also progressively unreliable,” he said. “What you tell yourself about what you remember…what you actually remember…what you choose or try to forget– all of that is one aspect, and its relationship to actual places and people starts slipping.” His comments remind me of my conversation with Suzanne Frishkorn about Fixed Star (Jackleg Press, 2022): when displaced, people sometimes cling to possibly false memories to feel connected to their heritage. This desire for connection aligns with Alvaro, who, orphaned and lost, is frantically searching for some stability, some semblance of a home.


Extended Stay is a visceral page turner whose themes will appeal to fans of body horror and diaspora narratives alike.


 


Brittany Torres Rivera is a bilingual, Puerto Rican writer. She graduated from Florida International University with a BA in English with a concentration in Creative Writing. Brittany is an alumna of the Fulbright Program and currently works as an Editorial and Administrative Assistant at Graywolf Press.

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