IN OTHER WORDS

Pasatiempo - - IN OTHER WORDS - — Casey Sanchez

The Faster Red­der Road: The Best UnAmer­i­can Sto­ries of Stephen Gra­ham Jones edited by Theodore C. Van Alst Jr., Uni­ver­sity of New Mex­ico Press, 371 pages Writ­ing at the in­ter­sec­tion of crime noir, genre hor­ror, and sci-fi, Stephen Gra­ham Jones has cre­ated an ab­surd par­al­lel uni­verse to limn the lives of Amer­i­can In­di­ans and oth­ers who live in the small towns of Texas, New Mex­ico, Louisiana, and the Florida Pan­han­dle. Per­haps his best-known novel, 2000’s The Fast Red

Road: A Plain­song, fol­lows Pid­gin, a mixe­drace Amer­i­can In­dian, as he evades cops, aliens, gi­ant coy­otes, and po­lit­i­cal rad­i­cals while search­ing for his fa­ther’s body, which was heisted at his fu­neral. More re­cently, Jones pub­lished It Came From Del Rio (Part 1 of the Bun­ny­head Chron­i­cles), a cross-genre romp that tracks a fugi­tive fa­ther, his Bor­der Pa­trol agent daugh­ter, and their in­ter­sect­ing lives as they con­tend with an in­creas­ingly blood­thirsty pack of chu­pacabras in south Texas who have found a new mas­ter, a rab­bit-headed zom­bie.

De­spite his fic­tion’s fan­tas­ti­cal plots, Jones rarely de­scends into camp or kitsch. His prose is sleek and im­age driven; his lu­di­crous sit­u­a­tions are an en­try point to so­cial re­al­ism, ex­plor­ing the very real lives of men and women on the mar­gins of so­ci­ety. Most of his char­ac­ters strug­gle to lo­cate fam­ily and find love while fac­ing vi­o­lence and con­fronting per­sonal demons of ad­dic­tion and anger.

Con­sider th­ese sen­tences from “Car­bon,” a tale of teenage love set amid drug use, fam­ily dys­func­tion, and ter­mi­nal ill­ness from the new an­thol­ogy of Jones’ work re­leased by the Uni­ver­sity of New Mex­ico Press: “We were awake for four days straight and our hands shook around our cig­a­rettes and the sun came up and made a day for us, for the two of us. Some­times she’d look at me and my teeth would be chat­ter­ing around my sawed-off fil­ter and she’d tilt her head back and laugh a lit­tle, breath­ing out her nose, and I’d know there was noth­ing else in the world ex­cept for her and me.”

The Uni­ver­sity of Colorado pro­fes­sor and Black­feet tribal mem­ber has built a cult rep­u­ta­tion through an un­likely mix of work pub­lished in un­der­ground hor­ror mag­a­zines, aca­demic lit­er­ary jour­nals, and Na­tive Amer­i­can fic­tion out­lets. Born and raised in Texas, he is a re­cip­i­ent of the Texas In­sti­tute of Let­ters award for fic­tion. By his own ad­mis­sion, Jones can write quickly, and he’s ca­pa­ble of bang­ing out novel­las like the semi­au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal The Long Trial of Nolan

Du­gatti over a three-day week­end. Ac­cord­ing to a 2014 Los An­ge­les Times story, the 43-year-old writer has pub­lished more than 200 nov­els, sto­ries, an­thol­ogy in­clu­sions, and e-re­leases.

While at­tempt­ing to in­tro­duce him to a wider au­di­ence, this an­thol­ogy pro­vides plenty of good­ies for his long­time fans. In the man­ner of a DVD com­men­tary track, Jones pro­vides off-the-cuff re­marks on each of the 35 sto­ries and novel ex­cerpts in­cluded in the book, re­count­ing the life events and per­sonal moods that led him to craft each tale. With his pen­chant for writ­ing ab­surd hor­ror and crime pot­boil­ers that swirl with sur­real hu­mor and so­ciopo­lit­i­cal and racial ten­sions, com­par­isons to Thomas Pyn­chon abound. In “Dis­cov­er­ing Amer­ica,” a barely veiled ac­count of Jones’ en­coun­ters with anti-In­dian racism on the job (his work crew in Carlsbad wants to know if he’s scalped any­body, while Texas oil work­ers ask Jones if they still run over In­di­ans in Mon­tana), the au­thor has his own fun with the Pyn­chon com­par­i­son. When a group of Arkansas col­lege stu­dents ap­proach the cre­ative-writ­ing pro­fes­sor about his “spirit an­i­mal,” he goes nu­clear with the sar­casm: “I be­come that tall, si­lent In­dian in Thomas Pyn­chon’s ‘Mor­tal­ity and Mercy in Vi­enna’ right be­fore he goes can­ni­bal­is­tic in the mid­dle of an oth­er­wise hap­pen­ing party. The work­ing ti­tle of the play I’m still writ­ing is The Time That In­dian Started Killing Every­body, and stand­ing there with my beer I don’t re­vise it.”

The an­thol­ogy’s in­tro­duc­tion by the book’s edi­tor Theodore C. Van Alst Jr. helps sit­u­ate Jones on the lit­er­ary map. But the best ex­pla­na­tion of Jones comes from the au­thor him­self. In his own in­tro­duc­tion to this an­thol­ogy, he lays out just what’s wrong with the term lit­er­ary hor­ror to sum­ma­rize what he’s do­ing on the page. “It’s still and for­ever an in­sult when I hear some­body de­scribe a book as ‘lit­er­ary hor­ror.’ What they’re say­ing is, hey,

that hor­ror book is good enough to re­turn to, it’s deep enough for a sec­ond read. Which is a com­pli­ment. Just one that in­sults the rest of the genre.”

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