Feb 11 2022

Book Review: “Coyote Songs” (2018) by Gabino Iglesias

Western book stack

Book Review: “Coyote Songs” (2018) by Gabino Iglesias

I don’t read a lot of horror, but occasionally I find myself gandering afield. So I feel confident enough to claim Gabino Iglesias’s novel Coyote Songs: a barrio noir (El Paso: Broken Books, 2018) can, at times, be just as vicious as parts of other novels I’ve encountered such as McCarthy’s Blood Meridian: or The Evening Redness in the West (1985), a lot of the little I’ve read of Stephen King––particularly his It (1989)––and perhaps even Poppy Z. Brite’s Exquisite Corpse (1996).

One very poignant passage for me in Iglesias’s book was:

The men made phone calls and used the equipment in their cars to report the finding. Then came the white vans. Men and women wearing masks and latex gloves packed the bodies into black bags, zipped them up, and loaded them into the backs of the vans. The process was quiet, ceremonial. Every time they pulled a kid out, everyone looked down, refusing to make eye contact with the others. They were temporarily ashamed of being human. (Coyote Songs 132)

This is a fictional world, yet it is one akin to the world of Ayotzinapa––a world where, instead of the bright cliché of how “the eyes are the windows to the soul”—readers instead find only sight shattered, vision lost, ocular organs gouged out like Gloucester on the moor when he laments:

As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods.
They kill us for their sport. (King Lear IV, i)

Iglesias’s line––“ashamed to being human”— reminds me also of the story of Pio Bigo (1924–2013), an Italian who refused to fight for Mussolini, then, endured time in Muthausen, Auschwitz, and Buchenwald, only to return home after the war to find that no one wanted to hear his story. It seems they were too “ashamed of being human.” For to be ashamed to be human is to be human-all-too-human.

(See the thumbnail sketch of Bigo’s story in Volkhard Knigge, “To Each His Own [a Preface],” Buchenwald: Ostracism and Violence 1937 to 1945, trans., Judith Rosenthal, eds. Knigge, Michael Löffelsender, Rikola-Gunnar Lüttgenau and Harry Stein, (Göttingen: Wallstein Verlag, 2017) p. 126.)

What I encountered in Coyote Songs was a visceral admixture of the real-unreal-ethereal—not unlike David Dorado Romo’s Ringside Seat to a Revolution: an Underground Cultural History of El Paso and Juárez: 1893–1923 (El Paso: Cinco Punto, 2005), a factual text whose epilogue involves a literal encounter with un fantasma de Pancho Villa—and also not unlike how Cabeza de Vaca’s (1488–1560) La Relación (Narrative of the Navárez Expedition) (c. 1542) includes not only cannibalism and three kinds of mosquitos, but an encounter with a dark, devilish spirit.

(Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, La Relacíon, ed. Harold Augenbraum, (New York: R. R. Donnelley & Sons Co., 2013), pp. 72, 93, 107–08. For other, recent devilish encounters in modern America, see Chris Arnade, Dignity: Seeking Respect in Back Row America, (New York: Sentinel, 2019), p. 111; Ray Wyle Hubbard with Thom Jurek, A Life … Well, Lived, (Wimberly, Texas: Bordello Records, 2015), p. 132.)

Finally, while I did happen to notice the line––

She wanted to show her white liberal friends how some of their discourses were thinly-cloaked attempts to make up for their racist families or white guilt or just crap they’d picked up from popular television personalities and later regurgitated with ludicrous levels of self-assuredness and conviction. (Coyote Songs 45)

––let me finish by reaffirming that (while I’m a straight, white (liberal?) male) I’m also but a reviewer, not an Ivy-League gatekeeper, not an editor (except to myself), not a Rogan listener or a Trump voter, or vaccine denier, nor a gangster of love; nor do I wield any influence, bear any wealth, possess any insight, claim any authority, nor manifest any charisma to “change the System,” (though a change might be nice, particularly in the world of publishing). But I nonetheless think all readers here at Bookbread should check out Iglesias’s book(s). I know that, for me, this first encounter is not enough; I want more.