A couple of years ago, I was talking with the famous East Texas crime novelist Joe Lansdale about genre and the way it sticks to writers. He has always avoided being pigeonholed and told me, “I write the genre of Joe Lansdale.” The same is true for the author Gabino Iglesias, whose work is so astonishingly fresh and new that he’s coined a term for it–“barrio noir”–and everyone has said, “Yep, that’s exactly what it is.” The opening chapter of his new novel, Coyote Songs, is perfect: creepy, off-kilter tone; charged sentences, and a moment that literally made me gasp in shock.
Iglesias starts with something familiar and then veers off in unexpected directions. This scene, with a man teaching his son how to fish, sounds like it could be a setup for a Rio Bravo Old Man and the Sea:
“Así you’re gonna be ready for anything, entiendes? El pez caimán es inteligente…very smart. That’s why we have to hide the hook. Fishing is lying, and lying to a smart fish is almost impossible. We also have to see him before he sees us. He stays in the water, unmoving, like a log. Igualito que los caimánes. Sometimes you don’t see it until it’s too late. Most fish are stupid, but not this one. When you go fishing for pez caimán…you have to think of it as going to war with a man, not a fish.”
Just a hint: Iglesias uses this scene to take the reader places Hemingway never imagined.
Just as the title entails, Parsons puts her characters under a black light so the reader can see what is so often left in the dark–things that are all too real and frightening to explore. When a writer takes such risks, it’s helplessly enthralling. And there’s much to be said of her prose: harrowing, ethereal, gives you the good kind of shivers because you feel that as she’s dissecting her characters’ souls she is, in turn, dissecting your own.