Author: David Bajo
Publisher: Unbridled Books
Publication Date: October 19, 2010
Hardcover: 345 pages
As the California borderland newspaper where they work prepares to close, three reporters are oddly given assignments to return to stories they’ve covered before—each one surprisingly personal. The first assignment takes reporter Aaron Klinsman and photographer Rita Valdez to an abandoned motel room where the mirrors are draped with towels, bits of black tape cover the doorknobs, and the perfect trace of a woman’s body is imprinted on the bed sheets. From this sexually charged beginning—on land his family used to own—Klinsman, Rita, and their colleague, Oscar Medem understand that they are supposed to uncover something. They just don’t know what.
Following the moonlit paths their assignments reveal through the bars, factories and complex streets of Tijuana and Otay, haunted by the femicides that have spread westward from Juarez, the reporters become more intimately entwined. Tracing the images they uncover, and those they cause and leave behind, they soon realize that every move they make is under surveillance. Beyond this, it seems their private lives and even their memories are being reconstructed by others.
Panopticon is a novel of dreamlike appearances and almost supernatural memories, a world of hidden watchers that evokes the dark recognition of just how little we can protect even our most private moments. It is a shadowy, erotic novel only slightly speculative that opens into the world we all now occupy.
Intelligent, complex with intriguing storylines interwoven comprise the excellent novel, Panopticon by David Bajo, where all is not as it appears. Straightaway the reader is introduced to Aaron Klinsman a reporter for the Review, managed by Gina, which is closing at week’s end. Aaron has three stories to finish up, the Luchadors show, Room 9 at Motel San Ysidro, and the public parks. Aaron works with Rita Valdez, the Review‘s reporter and colleague Oscar Medem. The reader learns about Aaron’s childhood in the boarderlands interwoven into the storylines, which is a rather chilling portrayal of modern technology used for safety but exploited for nefarious purposes. Panopticon reminds the reader that privacy is very much a notion and no longer a reality with CCTV to small cameras in our computers. Bajo writes a deeply moving, compelling and imaginative story bringing the reader into this chilling reality of vidas, altered perceptions and a rash of femicides. Bajo brilliantly crafts his tale in a manner where the reader feels as though they themselves are part of this dream or more appropriately, this nightmare. Reality is blurred in such a manner that one must try to decipher what is reality, what is not and how does one know. Bajo carefully crafts intriguing and realistic characters as well as vividly descriptive prose creating a novel that is a definite thinking novel. I took my time reading Panopticon; I found myself pondering Bajo’s storylines and not wanting the book to end. David Bajo is an author to keep an eye on, no pun intended, and I highly recommend Panopticon to everyone. I think this book is one that shall be spoken about for quite some time. While it is not a long book, Panopticon would make an excellent group discussion book.
David Bajo was raised on the California-Mexico border and has worked as a journalist and translator. He is the author of The 351 Books of Irma Arcuri and teaches writing at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, where he lives with his wife, the novelist Elise Blackwell, and their daughter.
I received a complimentary copy of Panopticon by David Bajo from Unbridled Books to review. Receiving a complimentary copy in no way reflected my review of aforementioned novel.