The devil takes you home - by Gabino Iglesias
I saw that this book was on the Stoker preliminaries list just released (2022), and I’d ordered my copy long ago – it had sat on my kindle since the release day – and Gabino was an author I’d seen collectively respected within the horror community – so now seemed as good a time as any to read this work, and learn a little about Gabino’s voice.
I took a few days to digest TDTYH after finishing it, to better collate my thoughts into a cohesive whole. It’s one of those books that reads easily, is engaging, yet left me bereft – frustrated in fundamental ways that aren’t a reflection of the content flow or its author. Nor is the issue political – any political views from the characters are based on background and race, their experiences of the same. Their views remain true to their upbringing. That was all cool. Believable.
I don’t know. There’s something here that didn’t gel for me.
Picking this apart requires spoilers - that's not avoidable – to fully explore where my unease comes from. Don't read on if you want to read the book without foreknowledge, this explores pretty much all of the reveals in the novel.
The book is a road trip. Gabino sets up two wonderful chapters from the get-go where we are fully invested in a child that is dying (and costing her parents a fortune in medical bills), who then succumbs to her condition. That emotional slap to the face of the main character, and his subsequent estrangement from his wife are the catalysts for him to seek illegal employment, to pay hospital bills, and win back his wife. The goal is a money truck – an attack on a gang-held delivery of cash. This also establishes a connection for the reader to the main character – we feel empathy for the guy due to loss and circumstance, and despite the incident that forces his wife to leave him, we are rooting for him to get it all together and sort his life out. That belief in him is one of the reasons people are then upset at the end of the book because, I'm sorry to announce - it’s destined for failure.
Having our goal set out before us, 85% of the novel describes the subsequent journey and preparation for that event. Two horrific events take place whilst on the journey that are later revealed as fundamental steps taken to ensure that a “secret weapon” (a ghoul or zombie or some such) can be taken to aid the trio of characters upon arriving at their destination).
The two interim events are described in meticulous detail. That the events are gratuitous in their violence could possibly be explained by their gangster origins, yet their lack of humanity cannot. The first (and for me more disturbing event) centers on the torture of a child – the removal of one of his toes. The child has received multiple mutilations before, to the extent that his tongue has already been severed (which makes his incoherent screaming all the more painful to digest). The child is handled like meat by its caregivers. This is their cash cow. Yet given the sheer demand for this child’s bodily parts, and the amount of money raised by the sale thereof, there is no attempt to reduce the suffering of the child. It’s not even a consideration.
One of the main characters (it is implied) has seen the mutilation take place before (he urges the main character to enter the house to witness the miracle – therefore we can assume he has witnessed it himself and is “excited” about sharing that experience with another). In retrospect, at the end of the novel, we are asked to believe that that character cares about a mother and her unborn child (possibly even his own unborn child) – a twist that leads inevitably to the death of the main character.
This is a man that has encouraged another man to witness child torture and mutilation. Who has killed multiple times.
That didn’t add up for me. On the one hand, we have a man calculating a life free of gangland activities with a woman and her son, after one more job is undertaken, one which will also provide revenge for a fallen sibling. On the other hand, we have a man happy to have a child tortured to enable a revenge killing to take place, in order to go look after the son of the woman he desires.
It is two opposing mindsets. Yes, the tortured child has nothing to do with him, yet with the amount of money he will make, a specific relationship seems an unrealistic goal for a man that is primarily motivated by revenge. He can go anywhere. Do anything. Why should he care if a woman is pregnant with or without his child? He couldn't give a shit about children. They are a means to an end. As long as it's not his kid, it's ok to torture and watch, but we are to believe he will have feelings for his own? Or from possibly another man?
The paranormal elements in the book add tension to the prolonged journey, and witchcraft and the supernatural are hinted at. The reader is slapped in the face at the close of the book when one realizes that our time (that which has been invested), as it were - our hope - has been misplaced.
Make no mistake, the book flows superbly. The writing is engaging, the horrific elements are punches to the gut. The gratuitous nature of the violence when it arrives, makes it hard to read, though, for the most part, those events receive an explanation of sorts, even if cloaked in the uncertainty of “witchcraft” or “devilry”. The main character (internally) is repulsed by the events that happen as they occur, yet does nothing when they happen. His rebellion is all internal. He even actively helps in the second event in an attempt to place himself in good standing with a crime lord. Yet again, even though I could explain the method of the second event’s victim as “crime lord violence”, and even though it later emerges as an integral part of the witchcraft that enables the “secret weapon”, the disemboweling of a man to feed crocodiles seemed – nonsensical? It felt more as if Gabino was flexing his Splatterpunk muscle. Surely an intact ghoul/zombie would be a better weapon than one collapsing in on itself? What statement is being made if the ghoul crumbles into dust in the desert and will not be found by anyone? So the witchcraft required use of his intestines - but they were eaten by crocodiles? Or did they need to get the intestines out of the way to get to his stomach? But then there are easier ways to get to the stomach? It's all a little vague.
This was a tough call for me to rate. The writing is great (all misgivings aside), Gabino includes whole sections of Spanish to integrate the reader into the culture and setting of the book, and that placement adds to the atmosphere. The book flies by for the most part, with the exceptions of the two traumatic events crawling by as you take in each repellent detail after the next. It’s great writing, that laser beam focus on the true horror here worked brilliantly. I can’t say it was pleasant. I don’t think I would want to read it again – but I can admire its craft from afar. This is uncomfortable, but uncomfortable because of my disbelief in the gratuity of violence, perhaps?
I’m giving this 4 out of 5⭐ ‘s – and will hesitantly look forward to reading more from Gabino.
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