“…when I mustered the strength to drown my fear, I…found myself in a new and chaotic universe where the flames of hope battled the confusing and violent darkness…”
Volfango – Contraband
Contraband, a work of Latino noir, by Charlie Vazquez, reads like smoldering tinder where at any moment it could burst into flames in the palms of your hands. Brimming with unending tension, this first person thriller follows Volfango Sanzo, a man desperate to escape a world that is devouring its citizens one right at a time. He is a government employee and a “lunar” which means that in essence, Volfango is genetically perfect. It also means that there is a target on his back at all times. The very people he works for are the ones attempting to eradicate lunars from existence. Volfango must disappear from the world he knows and defect to the underside, a lawless world hidden in the tunnels below the city.
Contraband is fully and wholly Latino without any of the usual indicators. (No hood, no slang, no magical realism, no racial discrimination, unless you’re a lunar or freethinker that is.) Not that anything is wrong with any of those indicators, in fact they make up some of my favorite stories. Charlie Vazquez is just on some new shit. (<~~~indicator)
Vazquez creates a dark world for his characters to inhabit, one that reflects what could become of the United States if our government and corporations continue to run amok. Volfango’s struggle is frighteningly universal, it begs the question: What’s worse? Tyranny that conquers through man-made law or an amoral anarchist revolution?
In the Underside, Volfango is tortured, enslaved, consumed by paranoia but he never loses himself or his purpose. The world of beauty and wonder he experienced before the ministry takeover is the fuel that pushes Volfango through every bleak tunnel. Vazquez does not spare a single detail in his rich and unflinching prose:
The word “tunnel” does not capture the degree of shame and filth I found myself in; it was an anus, a rectum…that stretched for too long…the feeling of having no outlet or escape, began to devour my confidence; the putrid and dank air, the malodorous mists and demonic insects…where am I crawling to?
There were moments when I needed to put down Contraband because I felt constricted, claustrophobic and too close to Volfango’s gritty and desolate existence. These moments were balanced out by the possibility of love existing between Volfango and another Undersider, Teodoro, his uncanny ability to outsmart his enemies and the glimmer of unimaginable power encased in his lunar identity.
Will Volfango fulfill his genetic destiny? Or does the Underside eat him alive? I won’t ruin the ending for you. Buy the book.
Ps- the homoerotic tension in this book is powerful, mouth-watering and filled with “what ifs”. Also, there’s a circus, yes a fucking post-post modern evil circus.
Tunnels, circuses and noir so tight I could only envision scenes in black and white.
Read Contraband and delve into your Underside.
And if you like poetry, check out Charlie Vazquez’s latest compilation Meditations/Meditaciones: Bronx/Salsa