Note: I’ve been putting off writing this review for a couple of reasons. The first being that I am absolutely terrible at this sort of thing – objectively explaining why a thing is worth reading or not reading. Putting my feelings for a particular artwork into words is not a strength of mine. But secondly, and more importantly, I am very much intimidated by the level of craftsmanship exhibited in this novel and so, tackling it as my first book review on this blog makes me feel out of my depth. But it’s for this very same reason that I’m going forward with this review…
Coyote Songs by Gabino Iglesias is a revenge story. It’s many stories, of the horror of living and the injustice of surviving beneath the ever-present boots of colonizers. It is an epic, a tale of cultures clashing against la frontera in an eternal struggle that seems destined to repeat itself without ceasing.
We are presented with a series of relatively short minuets, tragic snippets of life on both sides of the US/Mexico border. Our heroes face monsters both figurative and literal, some wearing familiar human faces while others seemingly emerging from the depths of some nether realm. While at first these tales may seem distinct and self-contained, as the reader delves further through the pages, common threads are discovered and an entangling, if somewhat disjointed web is formed.
This is not to say I did not enjoy this method of storytelling. In fact, I absolutely loved slowly discovering the connections between the previously detached plot lines. Toward the conclusion of the book, I found myself stepping back to take a second look at some of the stories previously presented to place them within the overarching narrative.
As for the writing itself? Personally, as a writer myself, I felt utterly undone by the author’s style. Scenes of familial bliss and blood-dripping trauma are painted both with detailed strokes, colorful language plastering images upon the mind’s eye. And while some English readers may potentially be turned off by the novel’s sometimes liberal mixing of Spanish into its prose and dialogue, it is done well enough that one should be more than able to discern the progression of the plot through context without having to be bilingual.
Above all else, this is a devastatingly honest story. This is a book that should make you uncomfortable. Visceral descriptions of life lived on either side of la frontera paint the picture of a hardship and brutal violence. This is a horror story as well, make no mistake. The passages within this book will disturb. We are faced with the terrors humans are willing to afflict upon their fellow humans and the undying rage that can spring forth in response. We are shown how layers of humanity can be stripped off in the name of serving up justice, no matter the cost.