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.


May 26 2017

Michael Morton: a Falsely-Accused Prisoner, Turned-Reader, Turned-Writer

Michael Morton: a Falsely-Accused Prisoner, Turned-Reader, Turned-Writer

I’ve been wanting to read Michael Morton’s memoir of being falsely-accused of the murder of his wife, how the legal system works in Williamson County, Texas, and how he found the ability to forgive his accusers.

There will be plenty to ponder, compare, and write about concerning this terrific book. But for now I will only note that a great surprise was discovering that Micheal Morton is a great writer; and even more surprisingly, an enthusiastic reader:

We devoured everything from the classics to Stephen King, and we passed each ripped and dog-eared copy from cellblock to cellblock, bunk to bunk. As quickly as I read one, I would be handed another. We would wave each other on to or off of a planned selection. We critiqued each author’s work with the clarity and strength of opinion that could come only from never having written a book ourselves.

Reading was the only means of escape available to us. With a book, we could climb over the walls, walk on the beach, meet new friends, and mourn the loss of someone we felt we had gotten to know. We got books from the library, ordered them through friends or family, and eagerly anticipated mail deliveries with book-shaped boxes. We were intellectually starving, and each new read was a feast….[1]

Stacked in my cell, there were always books and authors, characters and adventures—real or imagined—waiting to sustain me intellectually and emotionally, to give me a place to play out my anger, nurture my hope, and indulge my ache for escape. As soon as one book ended, another began. Sometimes, I read two at a time, jumping back and forth from one universe to another. It was the only freedom I had….[2]

Books like The Odyssey and authors like Cormac McCarthy and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn reminded me that even the longest journey has a finish line, that someday I would close the book on this chapter of my life. Reading reminded me that finding justice in the end was possible…. [3]

Inside, I’d been reading so much I felt like I was doing time with Mark Twain, sharing a cell with John Steinbeck, and sitting in the dayroom with Kurt Vonnegut and John Irving. Occasionally Tom Robbins would pop in. Stephen King was always lurking around a dark corner, motioning for me to join him someplace terrifying. They had all become my friends—men I could count on to keep me distracted at night and entertained in the lonely hours when I couldn’t find anyone to talk with who knew how to read. [4]

NOTES

[1] Morton, Michael. Getting Life: an Innocent Man’s 25-Year Journey from Prison to Peace. NY: Simon & Schuster. 2014.  pp. 127–28.

[2] Morton, Getting Life 171.

[3] Morton, Getting Life 172.

[4] Morton, Getting Life 131.