A gathering of often loopy, sometimes Rabelaisian stories by Mexican postmodernist Herbert.

Herbert, lead singer in a rock band in Saltillo, Mexico, is a deft explorer of the darker corners of Mexican society: His characters smoke crack, have unprotected sex with HIV-positive partners while making “gonzo porn movies,” drink far too much, exhibit poor manners. One even throws up on Mother Teresa, “a thick stream of puke composed of partially digested clams and wine that falls onto the extended hand and spotless headdress of the damned old witch crammed to the brim with lepers.” It’s decidedly not the polite, elevated world of Carlos Fuentes, and its layerings are less those of social class, as with Fuentes, than of degrees of criminality. In one story, for instance, a journalist seeking a source of funding for his crack habit of “between twenty and thirty rocks a week” engineers a speaking gig in a border town in a scheme that comes to involve the Secretariat of Public Education, the mayor, and a host of other figures—and, in the end, a lot more money than the journalist ever dreamed of. The story ends in a spasm of violence, the journalist in hiding, living with “a toothless junkie twenty years my junior.” The title story is a tour de force of unlikely circumstance in which a hapless film critic is press-ganged into a mission to decapitate the famed director for an inadvertent error involving the doppelgänger of a fearsome cartel boss. Punctuated by passages in which the critic spins out a theory of parody that involves such highbrow figures as Hermann Broch and Harold Bloom, the yarn eventually finds that boss, Jacobo Montaña (think Scarface), in jail and his henchmen Rosendo and Gildardo (think Rosencrantz and Guildenstern) dead. As with a Tarantino film, the explanation for how all that has come about is serpentine, goofy, and good fun, if spattered with blood, all pushing the envelope of probability.

A writer worth seeking out, even for Tarantino aficionados.

Pub Date: today

ISBN: 978-1-64445-041-3

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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