Consider this: In 2021, 596 migrants at the US-Mexico border died or went missing, according to the Missing Migrants Project – and this year so far the number is 252. Due to the recent SCOTUS ruling on the reproductive rights, Americans are currently traveling to Mexico or ordering drugs from Mexico in order to access abortions. Meanwhile, this year there have been at least 356 mass shootings in the United States (and that’s just August); at least 21 trans people have been murdered; climate change continues apace; the most common variant of COVID-19 in recent times is more resistant to vaccines than previous ones; and monkeypox has been declared a public health emergency by the World Health Organization.
Do you feel nihilistic enough? Good. That’s exactly what you want to be when you read Gabino Iglesias’ captivating new novel, The devil bring you home a black barrio that invites readers to consider the depths of darkness in this world, its material effects, and the cycles of violence we enter into willingly and by force.
At the start of the novel, Mario, the narrator, and his wife Melisa have just learned that their daughter Anita has been diagnosed with leukemia. A few weeks later, Mario is fired from his job after taking too long to care for her. Bills, medical and otherwise, pile up, and in desperation Mario reaches out to Brian, a former colleague who once told him “Call if the damn noose of poverty gets too tight, yeah?” Before long, Brian gives Mario a gun, a mark, and the promise of $6,000. Mario shoots the stranger he is accused of killing and, despite having fought with himself beforehand, he admits: “I didn’t feel bad. I felt good. scared a little and I couldn’t breathe, but it was like energy running through my veins…He deserved it. He was as guilty of Anita’s illness as everyone else.”
When Anita dies and Melisa leaves (it’s early enough in the book not to be considered a spoiler, I promise), Mario is left with nothing but grief, rage, and hunting down collection agencies. When Brian offers Mario to join him and a man called Juanca on a two-day job that will earn them $200,000 each, Mario – both of whom are fully aware of what he is doing and desperately hoping the money l will somehow help get Melisa back. , accept.
The devil bring you home is written in both English and Spanish – the former takes precedence over the latter, and any Spanish dialogue too much for plot or mood is translated – and takes readers on a journey to hell and back. Whether the hell is American racism, the Mexican cartel industry, Mario’s grief and growing comfort with violence, or all of the above, it works; as Juanca says, “the devil is everywhere”.
According to Otto Penzler, owner of the Mysterious Bookshop in New York and one of the editors of The best American black of the centurydark fiction (often confused with hard crime fiction) is about lost characters “who are caught in the inescapable prisons of their own construction, forever trapped by their isolation from their own souls, as well as from society and the moral restrictions that allow him to be considered civilized.”
Iglesias, who is the author of several books including Zero Saints and coyote songs as well as a book reviewer (for NPR, among others), certainly draws inspiration from these elements of noir. But he has a broader definition of barrio noir, which “is any writing that wanders between languages, borders and cultures [and] which occupies a plethora of interstitial spaces and is not afraid to engage with all religions and superstitions as well as bring supernatural elements.”
The mixture of religious, superstitious and supernatural elements adds a dimension to the novel that accentuates its horror, but also its social commentary. Mario, whose mother used drugs, always said he had angels watching over him, and he had waking visions all his life; At the beginning of the book, a neighbor from Mario’s time in Puerto Rico as a child, who may not even be alive anymore, shows up to give him a warning. Increasingly over the course of the book, however, Mario’s visions become the least of his problems, as gods and demons are called upon to bless a series of gruesome deeds that make no sense. But as Mario knows, “stuff that doesn’t make sense happens all the time.” Things like Mario, being bilingual, college-educated, and smart, being denied jobs because of his race; things like racist white men getting a cut of the Mexican cartel money because they can so easily buy guns in Texas; things like priests who need to come to terms with the violence around them in order to continue caring for their communities; things like doctors calling a dying child a “fascinating case.”
The devil bring you home may not be a joyous book, but it still allows for glimpses of love, moments of connection, and glimmers of beauty. Even if these cannot save us, they point to what, with a little effort and luck, just might.
Ilana Masad is a fiction writer, book reviewer and novel author All my mother’s lovers.