I have owned Gabino Iglesias’ Zero Saints (Broken River Books) for a few months now. It sat on my desk staring at me, willing me to read it, but I resisted. And the days turned to months and nothing, this book could not make it from my desk to my hands. I took two trips to Charlotte bringing Zero Saints with me in hopes of turning its pages. Still nothing. At this point, I was more embarrassed for myself than anything else. My vacation started a few days ago and Iglesias’ book was one of the three that I selected to keep me company. Before even considering reading the other two books, this was Zero Saints turn, and finally, I opened the pages and read, “I didn’t hear those pinches cabrones coming. They cracked my skull from behind. Probably expected me to drop like a sack of hammers, but the blow came with too much power and not enough finesse. You can’t just whack someone on the head and expect them to go down for good. Some folks have really hard heads.” Here I was finally reading Iglesias words, a combination of English and Spanish, words of a world unknown to me, words of revenge, words of cowardice, and words of retribution.
After being abducted, Fernando is brought in to a house where Nestor, a partner is crime, is tied to a chair. “A silver leach of snot coated his upper lip. His mouth hung open, drooling a gooey combination of saliva and blood onto his chest. I couldn’t spot any teeth in there. I was pregnant with fear, pero el pobre Nestor estaba peor que yo, ya estaba jodido.” This sentence is a fine example of how Iglesias weaves Spanish and English together, not Spanglish, but more of a freedom of sentences without borders.
Forced to witness the brutal murder of Nestor by the Mara Salvatrucha, Fernando is sent to his crime boss Guillermo to tell him there is someone in town that is more savage than him, a demon with black eyes. With his life is filled with ghosts, criminals, monsters, soothsayers, and saints, Fernando spends his nights dealing drugs at a club and doing other jobs for Guillermo. I shy away from saying that Zero Saints teems with superstition because that is not said of C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters or William Paul Young’s The Shack. The religion in Zero Saints is as strong as the book’s settings in Distrito Federal aka Mexico City and the dark streets of Austin — Iglesias’ Austin is not the city of SXSW.
Over the past year, I read Iglesias’ essays and book reviews, so I am well aware that he can write. I was unaware of how well Iglesias could write. A majority of Zero Saints is told in the first person, but it is the chapters told in the second person that stand out. It is with the few chapters that Iglesias writing shines. If all Zero Saints had were these few chapters, the book would still be better than most of what I read.
Our lives aren’t as great as we want to believe they are, and being afraid is a magnifying glass that makes you see every painful detail, every crack.
What happens when you accept that the lie is over is that you have to change things or ignore them.
What happens when someone takes someone you love away from you is that your lie crumbles but you also fall into a hole and start hating the walls around you. That hate eats you up like a cancer and the only cure es una venganza certera y sangrienta. Action. Don’t let anyone feed you any bullshit when it comes to venganza because something that feels so good, so right, tan cósmicamente correcto, is something that can’t be wrong.
Iglesias uses the crime genre to instill a sense of urgency to his story but it his writing — beautiful, powerful and, most importantly, fresh — that makes Zero Saints as much of a crime novel as Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five is a science fiction book. If you haven’t read Iglesias’ Zero Saints yet, don’t be a schmuck like me and wait, read it now.