by Gabino Iglesias
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
I received this directly from the author in PDF form, after he offered it on Twitter. I had not read him before, nor heard of him, and can't recall who I do follow that retweeted it. I'm sure he had made earlier offers that I was not aware of. I messaged him and said I was interested, but by the time he sent the file I realized the publication date was already past, and I was stuck in the middle of another ARC. He said not to worry, to get to it when I could. I'm able to read PDFs on my computer or transfer to my Kindle. The former came in handy on my second reading, since I was able to copy and paste dialog into GoogleTranslate. I know some Spanish, so it didn't hinder me too much on the first reading, since a lot of it could be deduced through context. All of the exposition, and the majority of the dialog is in English. He identifies this as a novel, but it's really separate character sketches. They do share common themes, but an anticipated concluding chapter that would bring the characters together didn't materialize. It can be considered horror, or maybe metaphysical fantasy. Each of the characters has a belief or philosophy that guides their actions, whether it be the Christian icons of Jesus and Mary, or folklore figures like La Llorona, La Huesuda (Death), Chamuco (the Devil), or the Orisha god Ogún.
The stories in Coyote Songs are set in either Mexico, Texas, or other parts of the Southwest. Chapters alternate the points of view of six different characters. Pedrito is a teenage boy in Northern Mexico intent on avenging his father's murder; The Mother (who I briefly thought was Pedrito's mother) lives somewhere in Mexico, or perhaps somewhere else in Central or South America. She is mourning her husband's death, bemoaning the life her son has to face, as well as wrestling with the fear her unborn child is a monster. Coyote is a man who smuggles immigrants across the border. He has done bad things in the past, and will do so again, but he does have a code he tries to follow, especially in the protection of children. Jaime is a recently released ex-con, living with his mother and her abusive boyfriend in Houston. Alma is a performance artist in Austin, dreaming of her next creation, but also dreaming of blood and death. La Bruja is a woman trapped in another coyote's truck, who has to witness the death of everyone when they are locked inside and abandoned. Everyone includes herself, her husband and child. After her death, or possibly just in a near-death fever dream, she visualizes herself as an avenging angel, calling for the blessing and strength of Inmaculada (the Virgin Mary of the Immaculate Conception) to punish those who abandoned them.
I don't want to say anything more about the plots, other than that each reader can interpret them based on their own ideas and beliefs. I do think it is significant that a character's story stops recurring when they reach their own death, or in one case the unmistakable certainty of their approaching death. Does that mean their beliefs of the afterlife were invalid, or that their experiences on the other side would be incomprehensible, so the author doesn't venture there? You decide. I do recommend this, although I have to warn that it is frequently brutal and unrelenting, with some extremely violent scenes. Most are vividly described, but even when not the inference is enough to conjure bloody images in the mind's eye. I'm not a big fan of horror, although I've been reading more of it the past few years, and I'm interested in seeking out Iglesias' earlier work. It's horrific all right, devastating, and gut-wrenching, but as compelling as any tragedy you can imagine. A literary train wreck, if you will. I'm actually surprised I haven't had nightmares the past two nights. Hope I didn't jinx myself there.
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