Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Contraband, a review


Queer Mojo/Rebel Satori Press

By Charlie Vazquez

A New Literature?

Reviewed by Mick Mykola Dementiuk

     It’s the somewhat-near future and we are in the dark smoky world of Contraband, a novel by Charlie Vazquez, (and which has nothing to do with drugs) but which in a way reminds me of Louis Ferdinand Celine’s books Journey to the End of the Night or his Death on the Installment Plan, or perhaps even Franz Kafka’s The Castle or The Trial and others of that ilk where you can never know where you are, what you’re going to get or what’s the point of it anyway, since you just might as well puke your guts out. In much the same way the writings of Charlie Vazquez are an unclear, uncertain mystery, leaving a bad taste in your soul since it describes such an unknown world, one either in healing recovery or exposing its sores as it festers to its ugly conclusion but Vazquez surges on ahead determined to reach its end, no matter what that end might bring, total change or further boring rotting stagnation.

     It opens in Emerald City as Volfango is waiting for a train to take him back home after work. He is accosted by a dirty beggar, while other passengers complacently avoid looking at them but Volfango follows the beggar into a subway tunnel. Volfango is a government employee but has leanings to the other side, the rebel side. The beggar is a ‘lunar’, or “profane in the eyes of the Revolution” meaning he’s not one on them, as is also Volfango, but Volfango already has feelings of escaping underground, that’s why he goes after the beggar. The outside world is torn between those who follow orders and obey and those who able to survive and are hidden in the darkness.
     Eventually Volfango leaves the tunnel and goes to his mother’s house, the beggar has stolen his attaché case but he was the beggar’s long stick which gets him strange looks from the other riders. Two cops get on board but he shows them his government ID and instead they go after another sleeping beggar. In getting to his mother’s house he uses the walking stick defensively, ready to hit anyone who asks him what he’s doing. Outside, in the hills skirmishes break out between the rebels and government troops.

     Visits with his dentist, Doctora Valdez, for an aching toothache and has a tooth pulled in a dilapidated slum/doctor’s office with rats scurrying about the floor. The city is totally fallen apart, infected with dirt and rats everywhere. He has a brutal ugly tooth extraction as two big males nurses/aides hold him down; the Doctora pulls the bad tooth out.

     In the night he goes to a barroom where he knows he’ll meet someone who will help him to the underworld; he no longer wants to remain in the straight world. Volfango meets the young man Alto in the bar where the crowd is hugging and kissing when suddenly the government starts shooting on them. Volfango and Alto, with a few others run and get away. A host of different characters come on the scene, lasting for a few days then they are killed off by the government. It might have nothing to do with the future or is might have everything to do with it.

     He meets up with Teodoro, his half brother, and both fall into the hands of The Hidesman, a sort of a boss of the underworld, who holds Volfango chained to him. Volfango breaks away and kills The Hidesman. He signs to work on Lednov’s ship, which is headed to disembark at Sun City.

      In Sun City Teodoro talks and talks and it goes on for pages and pages. People come and people go. While in Sin City he is assigned by Don Carlos to do paperwork while Teodora takes care of the animals in the zoo. Sin City is the New Orleans, Vieux Carre, French Quarter, and for a time they work with the circus animals but the Republicans are getting closer, when at night in fears of them taking over, Don Carlos commits suicide. Later it was discovered he secretly was a woman under his manly disguise. The Republicans shoot at the brothers but they get away from Sun City making their way to a safer place, but still more dangerous in other ways, the Emerald City.

      If you’re under the impression that this might be about a new version of the Wizard of Oz, well, I have news for you, it isn’t, it’s a brutal horrible tale about surviving in a new land, a land with a town known as Emerald City but where the familiar will totally cease. In Emerald City a woman shoves a gruesome baby into Fandago’s arms and disappears. The baby is covered in disgusting smeared excrement but he holds on to it, though he desperately wants to throw up at every moment. Crawling through a tunnel it seems he’s crawling through an anus, a rectum, a disgusting orifice. He makes it back into Emerald City, a city waiting for him or is it?

     Contraband takes place in the future and it’s a prediction of what could be or what might be if we don’t watch it. If you like futuristic novels with the world having fallen apart or on the verge of collapse this one’s for you. Sort of like the films Blade Runner or Total Recall but with much more gruesome and uglier protagonists, as all wars usually tend to be ugly as sin.

     At first I had a hard time of reading Vazquez, even a few times setting it down and offering the book to another reader but I kept thinking and returning to it in the same way I once had difficulty with Celine. His two nauseous books, Journey to the End of the Night and Death on the Installment Plan only made me want to puke but I knew that Celine had certainly reached a higher level of literature than that which is consumed by today’s fickle childish readers. And I sensed that Vazquez reached the same point and had to be read, that is, pored over page by page. In this way I steeled my nauseous feelings and returned to the book, and I’m sure glad I did, for Vazquez is a new form of literature, a higher form of writing, one that is despicably disgusting but still it has to be read and savored, as uncomfortable it might make you. An excellent story and a great job, Charlie Vazquez, I’m hungry to read still more of your future work!

Mick Mykola Dementiuk is a two-time winner of the Lambda Award, and his collection, Times Square Queer, was a finalist for the 2012 Bisexual Book Award. Visit him at http://dementiuk.weebly.com or http://www.MykolaDementiuk.com

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