I Read Gabino Iglesias’ ‘The Devil Takes You Home’.
The more I read, and certainly the more I write, I learn that the exercise of ‘successful’ writing is more a practice of engagement and attrition than it is about skill. One can write deep and meaningful prose, sharp and organic dialog, devout and cerebral diatribes for an afternoon, for a week, hell, even a month and never return to it, never sharpen it, never feel like you have hit that final sentence and the entire piece, the entire work will die on the vine. It will shrivel on the page first, and then slowly it will cripple itself in the mind as well. There are those, too, who can see something through from beginning to end with meager skill, functional form, and hard dedication to the work. These authors will see their vision complete. I’ve read many journalists, many authors and many poets who continue to release bouquets of nothing, flat and unironed Word Muzak, and yet despite the lack of unique and undeniable talent, still these are the works that present themselves before me. This, I believe, is how we end up with The Devil Takes You Home.
It’s not that this book is bad. It’s not that the story is written poorly. It’s just that it seems as if it has no mediator. It has nothing keeping it in check. It feels, actually to be honest, like it was written with a lot of fun in mind. I think Iglesias genuinely liked getting into this story of cartels, gang violence, meth and dark magic. I think he enjoyed putting a wan noir voice to it all. Genuinely, I love that. I’m stoked that he got to write this story and get it out to the people. But as I sat with it, the closest I can compare it to is reading something that your friend put together in a creative writing class and sent a copy over to you. If someone I knew had written this, I probably would say, “Damn, man! This is super cool, I can’t believe you thought out all this stuff!” But for it to be a published work, one that was a part of the Book of the Month offerings too, just feels a little strange. I’m not sure how it made its way here other than the fact that Iglesias kept his foot on the gas, continued to pitch and cultivate his work, and saw the vision through. Engagement. Attrition.
Reading this book, you’ll get about halfway through the depressed and desperate main character and slowly a turn will begin to take shape. As the singular story begins to take on more passengers, things start to take a turn towards darkness. In time, we are in full-fledged brujeria territory. Crosses rattling on walls. Crippled icons. Hollowed creatures. Happily, we don’t get a hard explanation on the Hows and Whys and Whats. It definitely adds to the mystery and the concept that there are strange and unexplainable things out there. Bad people are doing bad things with bad intentions. But within all that, it kind of feels a little video game-y. We are introduced to a cartel leader who not only has countless henchmen at his disposal but also has a lieutenant who wields massive guns and another who is a dark witch capable of engaging with the dead, dying and undead. And there’s more to him than he appears as well. Though again, this is all discussed as part of the world-building in the environment that the author has created and we don’t get to interact with these characters all that much. I liked that there was a bit of an infrastructure built for the crime boss, an organization that was built that felt like we were just seeing the relevant utilitarian portion that we needed at the time. I thought the restraint there was great, but if nothing else, it did feel (again in video game terms) that this syndicate could be a bit OP.
I think of all things, though, the thing that makes this book feel a little detached from making a significant impact is its perspective. The narrator, Mario, gives us a healthy dose of his difficult circumstance early on. His family life is bottom of the barrel and his financial situation is not much better. His hopeless situation brings him to make some choices which branch us on a path towards getting involved in a huge scheme to change his world around permanently. Up until this point, things are fairly grounded and the protagonist remains active. But once we are introduced to Juan Carlos (Juanca), 75% of the story becomes things that are happening before us instead of things that we are engaging with. Mario watches Juanca perform actions, tour the barrio, illegally cross the border, meet cartel members, know the ins and outs of the dark magics that we engage with and the whole time we are reading Juanca say things like “you’ll see soon,” and “let me worry about that later” and “don’t worry, I’ve got it figured out,” while our main character rides shotgun and continues to be pulled through every event and every action with little to no interaction whatsoever. It’s tough to feel like a part of the ride when we are two steps removed from the person making all the decisions.
I thought this book had some cool moments and I like the places that it wanted to go, but it felt a little immature in the way that it told a complete story and also a little spatially conceived, despite a meager throughline. I wouldn’t recommend this book, but it might be a good airport/airplane read if you’re looking for something one-dimensional and superficial.