The review below is not an exaggeration. This book blew me away. And please note, I have a track record of knowing what I am talking about-- see previous super early support of Bird Box (by an unknown author at the time), Gone Girl (given to me by Flynn herself months before it came out) and Cabin at the End of the World (which I read last February).
[Speaking of Bird Box, side note: people are coming up to me everywhere [in person, online, stopping my husband at stuff for the kids where I am absent] and thanking me for telling them to read that book years ago.]
Iglesias, Gabino (author).Oct. 2018. 212p. Broken River, paper, $15.99 (9781940885490).
First published January 18, 2019 (Booklist Online).
Iglesias, follows his Wonderland Book Award nominated debut [Zero Saints], with a brutal, beautiful, and utterly necessary story for our difficult times. Told in a collage style, he presents six distinct voices, Pedrito, The Mother, The Coyote, Jaime, Alma, and La Bruja, and in succession has each narrate their story, stories that are connected, not in the same plot, but in that together they provide a horrifying and honest portrait of life on the border- borders that separate countries, but also the borders between the living and the dead. Iglesias’ goal is to share what it is actually like to be brown, poor, and desperate, and he refuses to sugar coat it. Tension and discomfort are present on every page, from savage killings, in utero monsters, wailing witches, even the untranslated Spanish, all of it is there to make readers uncomfortable, pleading with them to understand that the people who live on the fringes are not a monolithic mass, and that they all have a face, a story, and a right to live. Told with strong narrative voices that return on a loop which intensifies the pacing, and in gorgeous prose, even when describing horrible things, this is a horror, crime and literary mashup that will challenge every reader it touches, no matter their race, political leanings, or how woke they think they are. You will flinch multiple times when reading this book, but you need to. That’s the point and that’s why it must be experienced. Give to readers who enjoy the lyrical, heartbreaking, but not hopeless works of Jennifer Clement, Tommy Orange, and Kiese Laymon.Further Appeal: Because I knew this review would be online, I didn't have to worry about the word count [with Susan's permission] so I packed a lot in there. But I really want to stress how the story is told here. You could argue that it is a novel or a story collection. I lean toward novel because like There There, mentioned above and below, each narrator has a unique story to tell and they don't just have one chance to do it. In Coyote Songs, the narrators go in order once and then they repeat, and repeat again, etc.... There There was more random.
However, unlike There There, the storylines being told in Coyote Songs do not converge. They are unique and distinct. Together they paint one picture of a place and our current moment in time, but they are all unrelated in a literal sense.
This is an unconventional storytelling style that is hard to classify. In fact, just this week, Coyote Songs made the preliminary ballot for the Bram Stoker Award in the Fiction Collection not the Novel category. Although I am a juror for this award, I was not involved with either of those categories. I share that personal information because as a juror, I know first hand how much vetting and verifying is done to make sure books are in the correct category.
I don't think the unconventional style will turn people away [just as it did not with There There], but since it effects how you experience the story as a reader, I think it is the most important appeal to mention.
I think the choice to tell story as a mosaic, was perfect. It heightens the unease and gives each narrator more power, more presence, and more emphasis by breaking up their stories separated by others having their chance to speak to us. All are distinct, yes, but each alone is not enough to create the feelings and the emotions Iglesias is trying to portray.
Otherwise, I think I have all of the major appeals in the review. It is a difficult, tense, uncomfortable story filled with beauty and violence. Oh, and the first chapter....one of the best opening chapters I have ever read. It is all of those things and it is brilliant. Seriously, brilliant. I had to put the book down and contemplate it after only a few pages. And, it is even more brilliant after finishing the book because you realize how perfect the first chapter introduced the entire book.
As I said on the horror blog when I made my 2018 best list and put this book at #3: Raw, honest, and beautifully written horror on the southern border. It will make you uncomfortable in every way and you cannot, will not, and should not look away.
Three Words That Describe this Book: discomfort, character centered, beautiful
Readalikes: The three authors I mentioned above are a great place to start, and those links go to their Goodreads page. I also have longer reviews of Clement's Prayers for the Stolen and Orange's There There on the blog which have more readalikes for you. Also here is a list of books Kiese Laymon wants you to read via Booklist.
Although the stories are very different, the way Coyote Songs "breaks you" emotionally as a reader is similar to Cabin at the End of the World by Tremblay. You are broken after reading it, but you are also glad you experienced such an amazing book that is also beautiful and thought provoking. Also like the Tremblay title, this is a genre mashup of crime, literary, and speculative.
Finally, another one of my favorite backlist horror titles is also set on and around the border of the US and Mexico-- Ghost Radio by Leopoldo Gout. The storytelling style is different [more ethereal and magical for the Gout vs more realistic with speculative elements for Iglesias], but I like both a lot, so maybe you will too.