Tag Archives: broken river books

Review: Zero Saints by Gabino Iglesias (Broken River Books; 2015)

28 Nov


The first line that struck me in this poetic, Spanish-language-infused noir was:

“The blackness covering his features sprouted ghostly tendrils that seeped into the night around us and made everything darker. Impossibly darker.”
It’s light hints of surrealism like this that make this book stand out from other noirs. 

Another random, great line: 

“The shoes on his feet looked five sizes too big and they were vomiting their tongues like alley winos.”

This book, despite the aforementioned surreal touches, is grounded in personal details and naturalistic experiences. The rawness of the violent scene in the bathroom comes to mind when thinking back on some of the more vivid moments in Zero Saints

Then there beautiful moments of tragic poetry like this one:

“La frontera is a place where miedo seeps into your bones and the silence you’re forced to keep allows the cries of dead children to enter your soul and break you in half like a dry twig. La frontera is a place where los huesos de los muertos are never buried deep enough and the pain of broken families and la Sangre de los inocentes has mixed with the plants and the air and the soil. All that darkness is what gives el rio its peculiar smell and green color. Some things have a bottom but they are bottomless. The infinite darkness that hides in that flowing jade vein is what makes white men with guns pull the trigger even when the figure moving under the crosshairs is a woman or a child.” 

As you can infer from the above-quotes passage, this book showcases a harrowing realism that cuts to the bone and is definitely not of the cliched, alcoholic, tough-as-nails, chain smoking detective–the narrator of Zero Saints admits that being a coward has kept him alive so far. 

I could basically quote the entirety of chapter 6 (where the above quote comes from). Whichever side the immigration debate you happen to fall on, this chapter will surely offer you a glimpse into the difficulty and terror ingrained in that experience, “because the thing about life is that time gets between facts and memories and as memories turn into what they are, facts start sliding back, moving into a space full of images from peliculas and skeletons from bad dreams and imagined monstruos and stuff that someone told you.” 

The rest of the book is elliptical and brutal. One later chapter comparing the difficulty of reality to the sustained faked sense of desire and enjoyment within pornography stuck out. 

There is a lyricism to this book that combined with brutality, a glimpse into the underbelly of modem Austin, Texas, and a holy tone using euphonic passages of the Spanish language, will offer the noir fan seeking something different and challenging, yet poetic and prescient, a vibrant new volume. 

Read Zero Saints by Gabino Iglesias

Review: Our Love Will Go the Way of the Salmon by Cameron Pierce (Broken River Books; 2014)

4 Jan


“Our Love Will Go the Way of the Salmon”

A light surrealism permeates this tale. Pierce’s obsession is intriguing, especially if you reread his earlier works like The Ass Goblins of Ashuwitz or “The Elf Slut Sisters.” His voice feels more restrained, mature, and secure in this story, although it does border on Norman Mclean territory. This promises to be an intriguing evolution for one of the first bizarro writers I read 4-5 years ago.


This is a very funny story. Told from the POV of a Vietnam vet with foul, politically incorrect terminology, what begins like a cliched war story quickly becomes something entirely different and unexpected. I won’t spoil exactly how it develops, but I will say that Pierce’s twisted sense of humor surfaces in abundance so its earnest yet gruff tone is quickly undermined by Pierce’s satirical touch.

“Drop the World”

I have mixed feelings about stories told in the 2nd person, but it works well here. It drops you into the center of the action of a female boxing match. As the dreams and hopes of our protagonist spiral downward on a trail of auto-fume vapors, we encounter a surrealistic vision of the victor of the earlier boxing match intermixed with angel imagery. This one manages a downbeat ending that is still hopeful, even if that hope is smeared in rubble, debris, and delusion as the mouth in a body bag speaks.

“Short of Lundy”

This one has the structure of an imaginary encyclopedia of fantastic fish coupled with a simple story of a man and his father’s stories of fishing simple trout during his boyhood. Pierce’s whimsical imagination remains in full-display despite what the aforementioned synopsis might conjure. I particularly enjoyed the description of the last sea-monster sized fish eating cows and cranes.

“Help Me”

I read this story a few weeks ago in the anthology entitled Letters to Lovecraft. In that anthology, Pierce provides an introduction and states his love for “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” which is unsurprising given the fishy nature of its imagery and anthropomorphic concluding twist. This story seemed more complex and creepy reading it the second time through. I actually went back and read the last few pages for a third time before writing this. It seemed, on my second reading, the narrator had actually become the human-like fish that demanded help; on the third read, I noticed that the other fish remained in the car yet is referred to as “the firstborn.” This is my favorite one so far, and I’m happy I reread it. Probably the most straightforward horror tale of the collection.

“The Bass Fisherman’s Wife”

Wow. These keep getting better. There was something very elegant about the style of this one–very restrained and almost musically composed, if that makes any sense. It has a prim and proper style, like something out of Nathaniel Hawthorne yet with a decidedly Kafka-esque development. To summarize the events would do it a disservice–this one must be unveiled like a series of masterful paintings.

“Three Fishermen”

This odd trypich of tales do not fit together in any discernible puzzle or mystery, but maybe I should return to them at a later date to unlock their secrets.


I loved this one. It has a slight Lost Highway feel to it while also revisiting the themes and imagery of “Help Me.” The narrator’s scene with his wife from a different life was handled well. This kind of story–with multiple planes of shifting realities–must’ve been difficult to pull off with such clarity and deceptive simplicity.

“The Incoming Tide”

Cosmic forces in tents and from the night. Missing elk by inches on slick roads after midnight. Slippery fragments, breaking but forming an arrow of energy towards a still-beating heart.


A short somber tale that feels a bit like Hemingway without the drinking and contains zero fantastic elements. Still moving in its own way, like a more optimistic piece by Carver but also without the drinking.

“Let Love In”

We encounter another talking fish, although this one is fueled by bruised hallucination. In times of desperation, love can you make you do anything–even it that means trading flesh for fish at a dirty counter to hide reptilian eyes beneath the eaves.

“Easiest Kites There Are To Fly”

The title of this tales serves as a gateway to madness. Sad events lead a man to be haunted by a devil fish. Tempestuous relations with his father and wife also lead to him drinking too much and too often. The tale feels more like a fable or fairy tale than some of the others due to the whimsical feat of a man actually becoming successful, for a short stretch, selling small easy kites to fly.

“The Snakes of Boring”

This story, the longest in the collection, moved at an exceptionally fast pace due to its humor and hardboiled plot. Despite some ludicrous developments along the way, the story remained compelling–sort of like an Ealing comedy (think Kind Hearts and Coronets and The Lavender Hill Mob (I’m thinking of the imbecilic plan at the catfish farm that, of course, goes horrendously wrong). I won’t spoil other twists in the goofy but macabre plot.

“California Oregon”

This is an intense, choose-your-adventure style piece. While the form is used ironically, the emotions are harrowing and unsentimental. A very beautiful story that I will never forget.

“Our Love Will Go the Way of Salmon”

Sort of epilogue to a genuinely original collection of short stories. I read this while staying at a house on Lake Rupanco in southern Chile. Though I don’t usually fish, I did a bit while staying here. I also looked for salmon in a nearby river. Maybe someday I will again.

Get Our Love Will Go The Way of Salmon.

Review: The Least of My Scars by Stephen Graham Jones (Broken River Books; 2013)

12 Nov


Dreams of a glass-walled apartment beneath the city streets. The view? Darkness. Click the molars five times before answering the door, or you won’t deserve the gift the hallway has given.

Vegetable Ghost, Kid Hoodie, and Dashboard Mary may have arranged for the girl scout cookies to be left outside the apartment to which he’s been DIY-house arrested. Cellphones recording all the secret and polluted and artificial conversations to no one and nobody, the narrator’s two best friends. Evil often leaks from the past: picking at the least of his scars or being buckled in the backseat by his father all day. They monitor his perversions by how excited he gets from the images on his television in 15-minute increments.

Find goat hair to make devils and feathers for angels. Then swallow a marble to become blue cat-eye flame.

This odd novella takes place in an eerie void: unreliable narration, a web of anonymous apartments, and various characters who may or may not be figments of the narrator’s imagination. The style is clean, direct, and conversational, although there are many confounding and beautiful dark poetic nuggets sprinkled throughout. In one disturbing moment, our narrator sucks his cheeks in and chomps with all the force he can muster, at first disappointed he can’t taste blood gushing and then, when he succeeds, upset his teeth aren’t sticking from his face like toothpicks through a jack o’ lantern.

If you belong to Litreactor, there is an honest and deep article by Stephen Graham Jones called “Preparing for Company: Writing ‘The Least of My Scars'” about the dark but mind-expanding experience of writing this book. Apparently, he was struggling with a few different novels that didn’t quite come together when he began The Least of My Scars. This is a poignant and inspirational article for anyone who has tried to write novels over a sustained period. There is a sense of great elation and terrible defeat that comes with it. One hopes to be as dedicated as Stephen Graham Jones during the difficult periods.

I hope to read more of Stephen Graham Jones’ work, for his voice has definitely seared a new path of possibilities for what the novel can be.

check out The Least of My Scars here.

Peckerwood by Jedidiah Ayres (Broken River Books; 2013)

27 Sep


This was a short, satisfying, complex little crime novel. It shifts perspectives quite often (hawks In Cold Blood sections come to mind) to a slightly-surreal/jarring effect, but nonetheless feels like classic hard-boiled noir. One unforgettable scene includes two disorganized crime yokels trying to frame a disguised televangelist in a redneck gay bar.

I hope Jedidiah Ayres keeps publishing crime books in this style; it was quite refreshing compared to other grocery-store crime Gods like Patterson, Kellerman, and the like. It is twisted, compelling, and action-packed. I reread the prologue for its somehow hypothetical tone and jarring investigation of dead possibilities several times before embarking on the unforgettable ride that is this novel.

check it out

10 Reasons to Read The First One You Expect by Adam Cesare (Broken River Books; 2014)

27 Sep


10 reasons to read The First One You Expect by Adam Cesare

1. Any artist will immediately be drawn into this novella about how far one will go to self-promote.

2. You will be terrified by a depraved twist that is woven seamlessly into the narrative.

3. You collect knives and might be a bit shy about your true motivation.

4. You want to discover more underground horror authors.

5. You like faux-vintage book covers.

6. You have ever been to a dark place while struggling to create a masterpiece in cinema.

7. You have ever worked a crummy job, hoping for an angelic turn of events.

8. You have ever confessed your true desires to a rat.

9. You collect to escape your surroundings.

10. You like harsh realism in a genre that (horror)–ironically–frequently avoids it.

check it out