Austin Author Gabino Iglesias Talks Spiders and Assassins

The horror writer guides you through the darkness at the Texas Book Festival

Austin author (and amateur bodybuilder) Gabino Iglesias (Photo by John Anderson)

The world would not have been blessed with Gabino Iglesias' dark and disturbing The Devil Takes You Home if not for an East Austin brown recluse (may it rest in peace) and the state of Texas' cruel commitment to leaving a fifth of its people without health insurance.

Iglesias' third novel (blurbed on the front and back cover respectively by horror heavy-hitters Stephen Graham Jones and Paul Tremblay) follows the enraged Austinite Mario – the father of a toddler with leukemia and a lifelong seer of macabre, magical visions. When hospital visits cut into time at work, Mario loses his job and the health insurance it offered. He's saddled with bills he can't possibly pay, grief he can't begin to understand, and pushed to his outer limits. Somehow, by the grace of Gabino, things get worse, and Mario turns to work as a hit man. "Sometimes normal people do awful things for all the right reasons," said Gabino.

"People are used to an arc where people build to a positive change," he said, but this is not that kind of story. "Everything spirals down."

“Sometimes normal people do awful things for all the right reasons.” – Gabino Iglesias

Iglesias' dark take on Austin and its relentless apathy toward its poorest residents comes, of course, from reality. Iglesias came to Austin in 2008 from Puerto Rico to get his Ph.D. in journalism: Once he did he spent several years in the gig economy – teaching, writing, and more – usually without health insurance. He lost a job at IDEA Montopolis at the start of the pandemic. Enter the brown recluse in 2020, and a bite that "got really ugly, really infected." A doctor friend told Iglesias he needed antibiotics immediately, but with no insurance and no money for a doctor's visit, "I ended up contacting a friend who dabbled in chemicals. He was able to spot me some antibiotics." The novel, in all its darkness, shines a searchlight directly on racism and its toll on the human body and soul.

This novel is a departure for Iglesias in many ways, but not in tone. It's the first time he's been represented by a literary agent, and his first novel in a two-book deal with publisher Mulholland Books. With agent Melissa Danaczko waiting in the wings for him to finish the manuscript and the knowledge that it would be sent out to a list of top-dog publishers, "I didn't want to turn my back on what I built my career on. ... I'm never going to be James Patterson. I really doubt this book is going to be carried at Costco or Walgreens."

So he thought of the most horrible thing possible and put it right before the 100-page mark, where publishers often decide whether or not they're really interested. Iglesias and others have compared it to that scene in Ari Aster's Hereditary, and it may cause a similarly powerful physiological response in any reader bearing a soul.

"[That] was the litmus test," Iglesias said, and any editor who wanted that scene cut would not get their hands on The Devil Takes You Home. In Josh Kendall, Iglesias found a friend and someone who, as Iglesias put it in his acknowledgments, "gets what I'm trying to do, and that's priceless."

The result is a distinctive blending of genres and languages – untranslated sentences in Spanish are integral to the story and, notably, left unitalicized. In a market that has become hungrier for horror, Iglesias' work fits right in precisely because it doesn't. He points out that the binding force among many modern supernovas in horror fiction is that "they do their own thing. ... I've been doing this for about 14 years and have always done my mix of horror, crime, syncretism, magical realism, bilingualism, and multiculturalism with a dose of politics. Horror is the only place where a mix like that can work."

Gabino Iglesias appears at the Texas Book Festival as part of “Barrio Noir,” Latinx Lit Tent, Sunday, Nov. 6, noon.

The Devil Takes You Home by Gabino Iglesias, Mulholland Books, 320 pp., $28

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