Gabino Iglesias Shows us the Frontier
The topic of the US-Mexican border has been quite a hot one for a few years, exploding into even bigger proportions with the election of America’s latest president. It has even come to the point where popular culture has diverged quite a bit of attention to it, with many books, movies and television shows revolving around some aspect of the subject. While I definitely cannot speak from experience as to which author or director portrays this reality in the most accurate form possible, I do have a strong feeling Gabino Iglesias is in the running for this honour with his novel titled Coyote Songs.
The novel is very much a character study rather than being plot-centric, simply focusing on multiple characters and the very different experiences they have living on the frontier. Without going into too much detail, we are first introduced to a family whose father does all he can to afford them opportunity. Following this, we meet a young black Puerto Rican artist in Texas who is slowly coming to realize the rich white men in suits want nothing but to exploit her. Finally, we are presented with a man simply known as the coyote who believes he is on a holy mission to save Mexican children by helping them flee into the United States.
While this is without question a novel and a work of fiction, it is so only in the sense of these particular stories being invented by the author. This is an attempt to show us a glimpse at the truth which lays buried on the frontier, an exploration of the pain felt by far too many people, only to be forgotten. There is no overarching plot or twists and turns to look forward to. It offers, in my opinion, something much more interesting: a study of human character in the face of the worst the real world has to offer.
The Power of Honesty
As I just mentioned above, this is definitely a work of fiction, but I feel there are elements which elevate it somewhere nebulous, a grey area between truth and imagination. I will say right now Iglesias is one of the most impressive writer’s from a technical perspective I’ve had the pleasure of reading recently. No word ever feels out of place or superfluous, with nearly every sentence adding something more to the story without ever being encumbered with unnecessarily complex or large words. It’s the kind of literature you would do well to take your time with, re-reading various segments to get the most out of them.
I believe what struck me the most about the writing itself was the precision, confidence and honesty which seemed to transpire through the pages of the book. Iglesias’ accounts and descriptions are all quite vivid and precise, and while I will admit not to be familiar with the author’s personal history, it does feel to me as if he was writing from personal experience and observation. It almost feels as if the author is sitting across from you and staring into your soul while explaining the brutality which happens from time to time in the world we live in.
With this type of genuine writing on display, I felt the entire novel adopted a certain weight to it, making me realize I might as well be reading a non-fiction book for how well the stories of the people likely mirror reality. In my mind, it quickly went from being a novel to a testament to those who struggle with lethal problems on a daily basis, the kind most of us are immeasurably fortunate to never encounter.
The Noir Desert of Coyote Songs
I feel I’ve already talked quite a bit about the meaning behind this novel, so I feel it is appropriate to move on to the story itself. The narrative is woven in such a way as to constantly switch between our characters, which I believe was the correct choice in this sort of book. If we were told the stories one by one, they would lose meaning and impact as soon as we would have moved on to the next one.
In this fashion, we keep all of them in our sights, and let’s face it, this structure does make things a bit more exciting through sheer variety. Rest assured, Iglesias has taken every step into making the overall narrative as cohesive and compact as possible, making it quite easy to keep track of everything taking place in each of the stories.
As you might have probably expected, the author’s portrayal of life on the frontier isn’t exactly done through pink glasses. On the contrary, he doesn’t pull any punches in demonstrating the horror, corruption and violence which reign supreme in the domain. I won’t lie, the plot does get quite ugly at times, and the realism of the writing drives it home even deeper.
It does some make some moments painful to read through, but I believe it is as necessary as books detailing the terrors of the Holocaust. This is not a problem we can afford to be desensitized to or even forget about should it ever actually get solved. The people who have lived through these immeasurable pains deserve to have their struggle preserved and remembered, while those going through them right now deserve recognition and help. One book may not be enough to spark change, but it’s an important step in the right direction.
The Final Verdict
Coyote Songs by Gabino Iglesias is an extremely engaging and at times soul-crushing exploration of life at the US-Mexican frontier. Despite being labelled as fiction I feel it transcends this designation and ought to be considered a denouncement of human suffering. I firmly believe this is one of those books virtually everyone ought to read, no matter what genres interest you… after all, we are all united when it comes to having interest in ourselves.
Gabino Iglesias is an author, editor, book reviewer and journalist from Austin, Texas who has penned, most notably, the novels Coyote Songs and Zero Saints. He does work with various media outlets, including editing book reviews for PANK Magazine, editing TV/film articles at Entropy Magazine, as well as writing his own columns for LitReactor and CLASH Media.