The Cowboy Bible

A certain wildness is to be expected when a book cover looks like a biker’s jacket, but even that might not prepare the reader for Carlos Velazquez’s The Cowboy Bible, a collection of short stories which will not sit sweetly in their in their cages but instead roam freely across the fictional town of PopSTock, their characters and phrases turning up untidily on their neighbour’s lawns. Nominally divided into three sections – fiction, non-fiction, and neither fiction nor non-fiction – even these barriers seem designed to display the content’s contempt for anything that might define it. Into this mix Velazquez throws everything we might expect of Mexico: wrestlers, narcos, corridos, and burritos, not to mention the devil, blended into a surreal cocktail that is unlikely to be to everyone’s taste.

The title story, about wrestling – “I was born in a corner. In a wrestling ring,” its narrator declares – seems obvious enough. Except it soon becomes clear that when the word wrestling is used it simply means something different:

“That’s when I discovered my wrestling style, what would later be called Neo Vulgar Retro Kitsch. The kind of experimentation that had me playing Ministry with Rocio Banquells and Los Angeles Negros…”

‘Wrestling’ is somehow DJ-ing, and Velazquez runs the language of both genres together throughout:

“There’ll be two or three takedowns with no time limits to win the national welterweight championship.”

The narrator loses the competition, however:

“My opponent wiped the floor with me… His collection of European vinyl was his advantage.”

‘The Cowboy Bible’ is amusing but it is not the strongest story in the collection. The Bible itself makes its first appearance, a good luck charm that seems almost incidental to the story. Though abandoned by the narrator at the end, it is not abandoned by Velazquez, and will reappear throughout the collection in various guises, its ability to transform suggesting that its pages contain the multifarious soul of Mexico.

Velazquez has been compared to Bukowski and Burroughs, two writers I know little about, but I do see something of the early Irvine Welsh. ‘Cooler Burritos’ is one story which invites the comparison, the tale of a drinking contest where gangsters attempt to rig the betting. Here, the Cowboy Bible is a character:

“Everybody knew The Cowboy Bible was unbeatable in any duel that involved swigging the special brew…”

The criminals enlist the help of his neglected wife who resents the being left to single-handedly sweat over her burgeoning burrito business while he perfects his drinking. In a similar vein, ‘Like ‘Em Fat’ recounts the efforts of its narrator to sleep with a fat girl:

“I was particularly fascinated by the myths about men who slept with fat girls: Fat girls were said to rekindle their faith in love. The overweight woman was attributed prowess and sexual expertise that are not to be found in the rest of her gender.”

He is no longer able to sleep with his own wife because, against his wishes, she went to a dance and “ran into the devil”:

“The place started to smell of smoke and all hell broke loose. My wife turned up burned to crisp in the Red Cross emergency room.”

(That particular story is told later in ‘The Post-Norteno Condition’). ‘Like ‘Em Fat’s no-holds-barred narrator makes for an amusingly ribald tale with a frantic, Tarantinoesque conclusion. ‘Notes for a New Theory for Mastering Hair’ also demonstrates a care-free attitude to offence:

“The Cowgirl Bible had huge tits, a greasy face and a mess of hair. From pre-adolescence she had suffered flare-ups of rebellious hair. She learned early that letting loose those tresses was only possible for gals who could afford certain products. From the time she was just twelve or thirteen years old, as she entered the bloom of puberty, she focused blindly on the wild vertical porcupine that had begun to grow between her legs.”

The story goes to describe her career as a pubic beautician, conflating it with that of a rock star (indeed the ‘origin story’ is part of that process). Her razors bear the names of famous guitar makes, her hero is Jaimito Hendrics, and she even names her favourite blade Lucille (famously the name of B. B. King’s guitar). It could be argue that Velazquez is poking fun at so many things – body image, fame, branding – he’s simply waving his stick in the air, but that doesn’t prevent the story from being enormous fun.

Dizzying and disconcerting, The Cowboy Bible may be an uneven collection, but where the stories work they burn like a dance with the devil.

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4 Responses to “The Cowboy Bible”

  1. JacquiWine Says:

    Wild times indeed. This is probably completely wide of the mark, but for some reason your review made me think of The Master and Margarita – probably because of the devil. Even though I’ve never read the Bulgakov, I have this image in my mind of him coming to town and wreaking havoc on everyone that crosses his path…

    • 1streading Says:

      That may well be true – I’ve not read The Master and Margarita either, though now I’ve read Life and Fate I may get round to that as well!

  2. Max Cairnduff Says:

    It sounds extraordinary. Whether in a good way or not I’m not sure, but extraordinary either way.

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