Reviews > Published on January 26th, 2016

Bookshots: 'The Cowboy Bible' by Carlos Velázquez

Bookshots: Pumping new life into the corpse of the book review


The Cowboy Bible

Who wrote it:

I have not read a voice quite like Velázquez's: at once familiar and placed and isolating.

Short story and non-fiction writer Carlos Velázquez. He is currently working on his first novel.

Plot in a Box:

Each short story in The Cowboy Bible shines a different light on life in a fictional Mexican province called PopSTock!. What we see is often funny and absurd, but also dark and dismal. The common thread in each story is the Cowboy Bible, represented as both person and object, morphing in each narrative.

Invent a new title for this book:

Visit Sunny PopSTock!

Read this if you liked:

He is compared to authors like Bukowski, Hunter S. Thompson, and William S. Burroughs, which I can definitely see. If those are your kind of guys, Velázquez's work will resonate with you.

Meet the book's lead(s):

As each story introduces new characters, it is hard to pinpoint a "lead," but I suppose you could say that lead is the ever changing Cowboy (or Cowgirl) Bible: a luchador, a drinking champion, a freedom fighter, a 19-year-old mother, a pair of boots...the list goes on.

Said lead(s) would be portrayed in a movie by:

I could see Danny Trejo starring in my favorite story, Cooler Burritos.

Setting: would you want to live there?

I don't think I have the drinking tolerance to keep up with some of the folks in PopSTock!, so I don't think I would like to live there.

What was your favorite sentence:

Contrary to popular song, Satan can't stand drunks.

The Verdict:

The Cowboy Bible is the kind of short story collection you return to, reading some of the stories more than once to really sift through Velázquez's clever quips and cultural references. The stories are separated into three parts: Fiction, Non-fiction, and Neither Fiction Nor Non-fiction. There are also two epilogues. It took me a few pages to get into the first, title story because I have not read a voice quite like Velázquez's: at once familiar and placed and isolating. I feel like I know the Cowboy Bible well but that I don't have access to him on a personal level, much like how society feels about the celebrities we read about all the time.

What makes these stories wonderful is the pacing of each character's journey. There is a great balance of action and reaction as their lives grow (or shrink) and change. I was surprised to find that the varying levels of stakes kept me more engaged than if every story was in the high alert zone. One character comes face to face with the government and a rebellion, while another is only on a mission to make love to a fat woman for the first time. Despite this, one story does not carry more value than another. I found myself equally invested in each new story, which I can attribute to Velázquez's masterful storytelling.

Achy Obejas's translation presents a language with stark poeticism that flows through the entire collection. The seven stories (and two epilogues) offer up new perspectives about life in northern Mexico from an outstandingly original voice. When his next work is translated into English I will definitely be picking it up.

About the author

Christine J. Schmidt is a writer originally from New Jersey. After receiving her BFA in Dramatic Writing from SUNY Purchase, she worked at Seattle Repertory Theatre as their artistic literary intern. She recently left Brooklyn, where she was a bookseller and events host at WORD, to reside in Los Angeles. She has previously written for New York Theatre Review, and her plays have been read and produced at theaters in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Washington. Coffee is her favorite thing.

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