February 02, 2005

BOOKS: The Coyote Kings of the Space-Age Bachelor Pad, Minister Faust (2004)

This is a McGuffin story, which means that everyone's running around trying to get their hands on something, the precise identity of which isn't all that important beyond the fact that everybody wants to get their hands on it. To be more precise, it's a science fiction McGuffin story, which means that the something in question is a gizmo that will allow the user to see the cosmic powerlines and travel through interdimensional gateways and become the Master of Time, Space, and Dimension (™Steve Martin).

Or something like that, anyway. If we're being honest here, the McGuffin is even vaguer and more McGuffiny than is usual for this sort of thing, and the plotting isn't always as tight as one might like.

But plot isn't really the point of Coyote Kings, which is about style and attitude, both of which it has plenty of.

Our hero is Hamza, an Edmonton dishwasher who lives with fellow underacheiving genius Yehat (a video store clerk). Hamza's been in a bit of a rut lately, but that comes to an end when he meets Sherem, a woman who speaks several ancient African languages, swaps Star Wars quotes with the best of them, and (as if that weren't enough) is stunningly beautiful.

We know fairly quickly -- though Hamza does not -- that Sherem is one of those hunting the McGuffin, and that her interest in Hamza is largely, though perhaps not entirely, driven by her belief that he can help her find it.

There are several other people hunting, too. Restauranteur Dulles Allen commands a group of misfit thugs, and brothers Heinz and Kevlar Meaney -- nemeses of Hamza and Yehat since high school -- are also chasing after it.

The book is narrated in first person, with roughly a dozen characters taking at least one chapter of narrative duties. The largest share, though, falls to Hamza, and you get a good sense of his voice from the opening of the Epilogue that begins the book:

In advance, shut up. I know epilogues go at the end. My point here, which should have been obvious already in my opinion, is that I am telling you some of the end of this story so as to get you to comprehend the mind-set under which I am currently operating and during which I am escaping.

I think that made sense.

The point is, is that this summer has been really, well ... it has included an unexpected series of events.


That doesn't quite ... episodes? Adventures? Harrowing escapades? Whaddya
want me to say? Things.

Faust's characters all have distinctive voices, and it never takes long to figure out who's narrating each chapter. Sometimes it's very easy; there's no mistaking the voice of wannabe-Jamaican Alpha Cat, for instance:

So yu know mi WOK intu di baas-maan hoffice -- di SitchuWAYshaan Room, ee calls
it -- fi mek a ripoht on stock-an-ting, an see if dey is enniting mi can elp out wit, SEEN?
A little of that goes a long way, and Faust wisely doesn't give his more exaggerated characters more than a chapter or two apiece of narration.

It takes Faust too long to tie the plot threads together and to make it clear what the McGuffin really is -- even if it's just a McGuffin, there needs to be some explanation -- but Coyote Kings has such humor, warmth, and heart that it's great fun to read. There's enough wiggle room at the end of the book to allow for a sequel, and I would happily pick up a second volume about Hamza and Yehat, no matter how loose-limbed the story might be.

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