Book Review : David Bowles - Chupacabra Vengeance (2017)
Not everybody appreciates border fiction. It can be a quite powerful and profound experience but it's not what everybody is seeking from books, you know? It's like hard liquor. Not everybody appreciates a good corrosive burn. The mix or real, imaginary and various cultural folklores can be quite intoxicating if a little robust and it ends up attracting people looking for a particular type of experience. David Bowles' new short story collection Chupacabra Vengeance is a little too diverse to be labeled border fiction, but that's what makes its appeal. It's a head trip into an alternate universe where reality and fantasy are one and the same. It's still somewhat of a challenging read but it will appeal to fans of several genres ranging from Western to Kaiju.
I haven't figured out if the stories of Chupacabra Vengeance are occurring within the same universe but there is such a remarkable consistency to David Bowles' imaginary, I figured they did. The collection is separated in five thematic sections with cryptic titles: Bleak Border, Spiritual Protectors, Dark Grimoire, Hard Road to the Stars and Hound of Heaven, which each explored a layer of Bowles rich and complex universe. I've enjoyed the first two parts better because it was clearer to me what they were about: the stories of Bleak Borders are a supernatural reimagining of border fiction which shrewdly borrows from pieces of American culture such as video games * and Spiritual Protectors explores the disconnection between those who only perceive flat realities and those who have access to other realms. Lots of cultural references of this book have eluded me, so you'll have to take it for what it's worth. I spent my reading time in a state of childlike wonder like a dog on a car ride.
But I digress here. A short story collection such as Chupacabra Vengeance requires a more conceptual outlook to do it justice: it's a book about the power of spirituality. David Bowles' "spiritually attuned" protagonists can see the evil lurking behind everyday bullshit. In Barbie Versus El Puma Negro for example, the priestess who narrates the story is facing a zombie luchador controlled by the town's corrupt mayor and a shadowy religious figure. Not only the story conveys (accurately) that entertainment ultimately has a pacifying purpose, but David Bowles also hints that only spirituality allows you to see that seduction for what it really is, which is not false. The crowds are delighted to see El Puma Negro back from the dead. They're too happy and satisfied to even question it. Only the protagonist sees the situation for what it truly is. If this story doesn't even make you even slightly curious about Mexican culture, I don't know what will.
Another story worth discussing is further details is the opener Aztlan Liberated, where a ragtag military unit taking on itself to liberate the sacred land of Aztlan from a Chupacabra invasion with a nuclear bomb. This story is interesting for many reasons but mainly it features a clear, inhuman protagonist which is NOT the agent of destruction. Destruction is portrayed as the solution to a transcendent menace in Aztlan Liberated, which highlights the notion of sacrifice. The options available to the characters are to either live in fear or wipe everything away and start over. The nuclear bomb here symbolizes self-determination: it is a surefire way of wiping the enemy off the face of the Earth without necessarily assuring your survival. Aztlan Liberated brings up questions of legacy and immortality, which once again bridges the gap between the mortal and the spiritual world without engaging into a esoteric discourse. When at his best, David Bowles seemlessly bridges the gap between North, Central and South American cultures.
I've enjoyed Chupacabra Vengeance but I'm one of these people who read border fiction just because I enjoy it. David Bowles dynamic mix of genres and hybrid imaginary made the experience of reading him for the first time pleasantly disorienting for me. The scope and cultural influences of Bowles' stories is so large that some material has eluded me, but Chupacabra Vengeance always remained unpredictable and entertaining and that's really all you can ask in all fairness. This is a good book although you do need an interest in border stories in order to appreciate it. The sprawling paradigm David Bowles created is extremely ambitious and rewarding for the adventurous readers who will go down that road. That said, it's good to see Broken River Books back in the game, delivering their own brand of out-of-the-box genre fiction. Chupacabra Vengeance will be released on February 15, mark that date on your calendar!