Levity's rainbow

Jun 1, 2005 at 12:00 am

The Coyote Kings of the Space-Age Bachelor Pad is a rambling, impressive, endlessly imaginative and often frustrating first novel by Minister Faust, a very talented young writer from Edmonton, Alberta. The back cover lists its genre as "science fiction," but Coyote Kings doesn’t quite fit the tag. It’s closer to magical realism, in Thomas Pynchon’s slapstick mode. Hamza and Yehat, the "coyote kings" of the title, are hyper-educated African-Canadians who are best friends and roommates. As is all but mandatory in stories about hyper-smart young people written by hyper-smart young people, their talents go unrecognized by the wider world; Hamza is a dishwasher and Yehat’s a clerk at a video store. But Hamza’s series of chance encounters with a mysterious woman in flowing desert robes leads them both into a centuries-old search-and-recover mission that takes them from downtown Edmonton into low desert badlands. Along the way there are digressions on theoretical astrophysics, graphic novels, Egyptian oracles and De Niro movies. There is a pair of sinister brothers, one black and one white, called "the Wolves," and an extensive subplot concerning a crime gang called the FanBoys that owes as much to Superman comics as to John Woo films.

A book like Coyote Kings is more about the journey than the destination, dramatically speaking, and Faust’s book is a hell of a lot of fun to read, right up until its climactic encounter in the badlands, in which the stories of the Coyote Kings, the Wolves, the FanBoys and Sherem (the "desert sister") all converge. The writing is crisp and energetic throughout, and Faust sometimes shows a keenness for visuals far beyond his years — the first time he sees Sherem, in a Chinese market, her skin is "glowing like sautéed butter and bananas" as she "hefts a bag of crawly roots" and "graspy, poking-out chicken feet." But where Faust really excels is on the level of voice. Coyote Kings is told in the voices of nearly a dozen central characters, in alternating chapters. One feels wary at first, but Faust’s ear for his characters’ voices is so nuanced and well-tuned that he ceases attributing chapters to specific speakers after their first or second appearance, and there’s absolutely no confusion. That’s an easy thing to do badly, particularly if you’re an ambitious first novelist, and that Faust pulls it off so well is the book’s greatest accomplishment.

Coyote Kings’ greatest weakness, however, is its ending, which feels at once rushed and incomplete, as if Faust had set so many wheels in motion, he couldn’t figure out a way to stop them all without jarring the works. But that’s a problem common to complicated and digressive books like Faust’s, as well as Thomas Pynchon’s and Philip K. Dick’s, with whose writing Faust seems to be at least passingly familiar. And really, the ride is so entertaining that readers may overlook the closing section’s shortcomings. For now, the caveats should be made in parentheses;Coyote Kings is an enormously creative first novel by a gifted writer, which is what matters most.

Eric Waggoner writes about books for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].