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(This review was originally published at at The Nervous Breakdown. Go to TheNervousBreakdownDOTcom to read the full review.)
Once Stephen Graham Jones has you, once you're invested, and want to see what's going to happen next, that's when he elevates his game. He's one of those rare authors (like Brian Evenson, William Gay and Cormac McCarthy) that can write, and publish, and exist in two worlds: the land of genre fiction, with the horrific, the fantastic; and also the high towers of the academic, the language and focus raised to a literary intelligence, the lyrical voice an evolution, the poetic unfurling of the land and emotion beyond the typical read. Jones can publish in the dark recesses of Cemetery Dance and Asimov's just as easily as the literary landscape of Black Warrior Review and Southeast Review, or the contemporary hotbeds of Juked and Hobart.
It Came From Del Rio (Trapdoor Books) is not your typical chupacabra story. And how often do you hear that? Maybe you're still eating candy from Halloween, a bit of the macabre lingering in your flesh and bones. Or maybe you just enjoy a pulpy novel, something that grabs you by the shoulders and doesn't let go. Either way, It Came From Del Rio is a book that I knew I wanted to read, having been a long time fan of Jones, committed to his work since the haunting, innovative serial killers in All The Beautiful Sinners (Rugged Land) melted my brain back in 2003. As the blurbs on the back of the book from two of the best in contemporary neo-noir (Craig Clevenger and Will Christopher Baer) state, "Jones crosses into the noir badlands" and writes a book that "anyone else would have rendered as kitsch." This is more than the history of a desert myth, this is the lyrical language of a border runner; this is a love story about a father and daughter, and her commitment to him no matter what has happened, what he has changed into; and this is a story of revenge, the terror of some mutated creature on your tail, its heightened sense of smell your sure demise, the extended rabbit ears high in the sky, the radioactivity leaking from its bloody pores, destroying everything in its path.
It would be easy to laugh at this urban legend, a novel about a bigfoot, a sasquatch, or in this case, the Mexican version, the chupacabra, half man, half rabbit. Except, Jones is quick to suck you into the humanity behind the grotesque, the emotion that drives this story, the motivations behind the violent deeds. The book is split in half, the first hundred pages focusing on Dodd Raines, the second hundred on his abandoned daughter, Laurie. And it is with an early sense of things to come that we are introduced to Dodd:
Which is four of the vowels, yeah. She'd started to write the fifth, but then, seeing the end of it, stopped. Standing there in the kitchen that morning, it was funny, an accident, a sick joke.
She should have just kept writing.
If she had, maybe this all would have fallen out differently. Maybe the ink in this pen wouldn't be bubbling out onto the back of my hand.
Posted March 22, 2011
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