A widower just trying to get by on the Mexican border wanders into a surreal underground obsessed with reviving extinct creatures.
Almost nobody in the business does weird fiction like FSG Originals, and this curious debut novel by Flores (Death to the Bullshit Artists of South Texas, 2018), set in an alternative near future, certainly deserves its place alongside Warren Ellis and Jeff Vandermeer, with a rustic patina that nods to the likes of Jonathan Lethem’s well-worn detectives. The main character, Esteban Bellacosa, isn’t a detective exactly but more like a fixer, the guy who can get you things or get things done. Unlike his troubled brother, Oswaldo, he was born north of the border, giving him the ability and advantage of moving seamlessly between Mexico and the city of MacArthur in South Texas. He’s also something of a broken man whose daughter died during a food shortage and whose wife died shortly thereafter of grief. In a bizarre backstory, a now-deceased Mexican cartel leader kidnapped a bunch of scientists during the food shortage and forced them to use a scientific process called “filtering”—“the artificial production of an organic substance”—to bring a bunch of weird animals back from extinction so the cartel could farm them out to either collectors or food markets. After Bellacosa is recruited by investigative reporter Paco Herbert to infiltrate an illegal underground dinner serving some of the oddest of filtered animals (Galapagos Gumbo, anyone?), he’s inadvertently driven by the cartel into a peyote-fueled journey in pursuit of the titular Trufflepig, an equally unlikely creature worshiped by a local native tribe. Plotwise, the novel is seriously circuitous, but Flores’ rich characterizations, sparing prose, and vivid portrayal of the myths of Mexican culture and life along the border give what could have been a tinder-dry crime novel a strange whimsy and charm that don’t sound like anything else in genre fiction.
A dryly philosophical, colorful, and disorienting thriller about grief, survival, and undead animals.