Book Review: Coyote Songs by Gabino Iglesias

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Gabino Iglesias’s latest novel, Coyote Songs, has been circulating in the Twittersphere as not only an excellent read, but also a damn important one. Barely a day goes by where you don’t see another excellent review pop up online, and there’s a good reason for that. As the spiritual successor to his superb Zero Saints, Coyote Songs ups the ante with better prose and deeper, more pertinent themes.

To say that Iglesias wears his heart on his sleeve in this novel is to do him a disservice. He goes way beyond that. He’s a man with his heart on his sleeve, a megaphone in his hand and a message to send. He’s a man who’s passionate about his craft, passionate about the writing community, and passionate about his politics. And, it’s that final point that really makes Coyote Songs shine. It’s been referred to as ‘timely’ on more than one occasion, and there’s perhaps no word that’s more accurate.

While the US Government is in shutdown precisely because of misguided attempts to build a wall designed to keep them out, children are being hit with teargas, and border-crossers are the victims of a propaganda war that’s being fought by those in power in the US. It is amongst this maelstrom that Iglesias finds his voice and fights for his people.

When Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize, he famously said, “The ancient commission of the writer has not changed. He is charged with exposing our many grievous faults and failures, with dredging up to the light our dark and dangerous dreams for the purpose of improvement.”

It is this dredging up to the light that concerns Iglesias in Coyote Songs. With a small cast of characters, he sets about revealing some of the ugliness and brutality affecting the lives of people with dark and dangerous dreams for something better. Each of his characters strives for something more and symbolises one of the many issues affecting the lives of people in the real world. Abject poverty, gang violence, escape, the desire to do good things in a world full of bad; it’s all here, and Iglesias doesn’t so much rail against it as he does point a finger and shout, “This is why!”

In achieving this purpose, he writes prose that’s as tight and mean as a prize-fighter. It is, of course, interspersed with the passages of Español he has become renowned for. On top of that, his descriptions are concise and vivid and the story itself features horrors that run the gamut from paranormal to human. The result is a book that’s as beautifully written as it is unsettling. That is no small feat.

The coyote had been doing the same thing for years. By now he had mastered the art of hurting kids just enough to get the job done. Hit them too hard and you run risks. On his second trip, a child lost an eye. That was too much. Hit them too soft and they’ll be fully healed by the time they finally get to go through the interview at the icebox. If they look too good, too healthy, the fucking gringos will do everything in their power to send them back to whatever hell they came from. Hurt them just right and a better future will make their scars feel like blessings. Pain is sometimes the only path to deliverance.

Iglesias, Gabino. Coyote Songs . Broken River Books.

Finally, just as Steinbeck would, he shows us that not all will achieve their dream, and the trying may cost them everything. Broken homes, broken families and broken people populate this book, and you can’t help but feel Iglesias wants us to understand the pain and suffering, the dangerous temptations and the daily horrors of his characters so that we can better understand the motivations of those who strive to reach those dark and dangerous dreams in real life.

Those who’ve deemed this book timely and important are right. It should be required reading for anyone who wants to write dark fiction with a message that sticks.

Four Stars.

You can – and probably should – purchase a copy here: Coyote Songs

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