Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Perdita Durango es una mala mujer. Muy mala!

Barry Gifford
Grove Press, 1996
reviewed by Anthony Vacca
5 out of 5 stars

Brief, brutal, and bizarre, Perdita Durango is my kind of pulp noir, and my kind of woman. A self-proclaimed Tex-Mex (Half American, Half Mexican) Perdita is also a thief, a whore, a killer, and an all-around sociopath. Skinny, lithe, and dangerous, this novel follows Perdita's misadventures after shacking up with Romeo Dolorosa, a Mexican drug dealer who fronts his border distribution racket with a church where he serves as voodoo high priest, sacrificing goats and chickens and sometimes even people.

In a lot of ways, this novel, also anthologized in the collection Sailor's Holiday under the title 59° and Raining, is the anti-Wild at Heart in that the previous novel was about a couple that represented the idea of love being something stronger than the chaos at the heart of the Americas, but here we have Perdita and Romeo as celebrants of death, two evil souls who see killing and fucking as essentially two sides of the same coin, the only real way to prove that you're alive.

Even the roadtrip trajectory of this novel mirrors the one Sailor and Lula took in Wild at Heart but instead of goinng to California to make a chance at a life together, our two Latin-flavored killers are transporting a truck-load of human organs that are to be used in a mafia-run illegal skincare scheme. Without giving away the particular sordid and disgusting contents of their cargo, know that it certainly only adds to the over-all theme of the complete disregard of life that we children of God are more than capable of perpetrating upon one another.

Gifford is in rare form here, carrying the free-wheeling, digressive narrative along quickly enough with cigarette-smoking-cool existential back-and-forths between its characters; these are the kind of deviants and delinquents who love to tell each other stories for the pure bliss of hearing the sounds of their own voices. The action is jarring and sparesly rendered in a way that reads almost like beat poetry that doesn't suck.

This novel (or novella, if we want to split hairs) can be read in a single sitting, as the chapters are short and charged with enough sex and violence to leave a throat dry and in serious need of a refreshing cervaza. It's a hell of a story, and like its eponymous femme fatale, it's bad. Very bad.

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