I’m giving 2018’s Coyote Songs by Gabino Iglesias five stars, and I’m going to recommend it highly here. Then I’m going to post warnings, because this is one of those “this book is not for everybody” things.
On Twitter, Iglesias describes his writing as “barrio noir,” and also “a mix of horror and noir.” Coyote Songs follows several characters on either side of the Mexico/USA border as a mysterious rage-filled entity comes into their lives. The short book (not quite 200 pages) is lyrical, hyper-violent at times, blood-drenched, fantastical, satirical, and contains a hefty slice of body horror in the storyline with Mother (a pregnant woman) and Boy. Descriptions are as vivid as a neon sign in a desert night, and often as disturbing as the buzzing of a colony of flies on a dead animal. It starts bloody and dark and gets darker, but there is hope at the end. The story rages, and it should.
The connections between the characters in this mosaic narrative are thematic. Iglesias shifts, at times, into prose poetry. One section of Coyote Songs reads almost like a narcocorrido, one of the ballads from the Mexican narco states. Sometimes it’s just so honest and visceral, and the things the characters are experiencing are so primal and wrong, I had to put the book down and go for a walk, or refill birdfeeders, or something. This happened twice in the sections involving Immaculada, a curendera who is trying to take her family north across the border to escape the terror of the cartels, and once with Pedrito, a boy we meet in the opening chapter, fishing with his father. Other characters include the coyote or guide who is paid to take people across the border, who has a sacred mission from the Virgin Mary to lead children to safety, and a performance artist.
Iglesias understands that the Mexico/USA border issues are deep, complex, economic and historic. He understands the border itself, and the desert that forms the southwestern part of it, in a fundamental and intuitive way. He draws on that understanding here with virtuosity, to paint a place that is numinous, deadly and in some way, ultimately, ephemeral. He shifts tone from tale to tale, while still braiding them all together, in a way that reads as effortless and maybe even easy, which is an indicator of what a good writer he is.
And the language, by the way. There is a lot of Mexican Spanish. You will have to rely on context for most of it. For me, this was a feature. It was another way Iglesias masterfully created an actual world and actual people. Then again, I know a little bit of Spanish. I think he does a good job of giving you the meaning if you rely on the context, and trust the text.
If you are interested in what Latinx writers have to say, and you read horror, Coyote Songs is probably for you. If you haven’t read many Latinx writers but you like horror, it might be for you. If you read mostly general fiction, I could tell you to approach all the gore and bone-deeply disturbing imagery as metaphor, and simply open yourself to the language. Okay, I guess I am telling you that. I picked this book up out of curiosity and was rewarded beyond expectations.