Reviewed by Declan Tan
The Tequila Tales anthology (edited by Millie Johanna Heur and Roy Anthony Shabla) is an eclectic mixture of genre, style and content that unites a well-published group of writers on the single and divisive subject of, yes, tequila. All of the work has in some way been licked by the liquid sting of the Mexican favourite and, like a night on the stuff, there are ups and downs in the success of each tale’s telling. But it has the kind of lively, straight-talking touch of some of the better literary magazines circulating today, the sort that these writers appear in regularly and consistently.
There is little posing here, little in the way of self-conscious and superficial intellectualism. It is lucid writing and, mostly, strong storytelling. This tequila is a kind of unknowing antidote to some of the throwaway posturing that has become fashionable in certain literary circles; the voice of an older generation, of the printed ‘littles’, that still have something they want to say.
There are two stand-out stories that make this book: John Brantingham is the writer of the first, and he has certainly done the rounds. He was fiction editor of the legendary (and borderline-defunct) Chiron Review and has been publishing strong work in the small presses since the ’90s. His short story ‘Even Puppets Must Die’ is simply a disturbingly well-told piece of writing, a booze-soaked memory torn out of a nightmare domesticity.
The other is a kind of mythical “devilish maze”, recalling Lautrémont’s prose poems had he been resurrected as a shaman before downing a bottle of hallucinogenic poison; ‘Naked Existential Woman’ by Hexham-born Philip Daughtry, is another great find.
There are others, though; a playfully experimental Gerald Locklin, a drunken but sharp Mike Muñoz, a brief Gary Keith, and a warped Tim Raab, to name a few more. And each of the tales employs the drink in a different way, be it medicinal or otherwise, though it isn’t always celebratory; there is a lot here about the trough after the peak, the grey guts of alcoholism, which make it more than a disposable collection.
Unfortunately it’s the first and last title to be released through Two Friends Press, owned and edited by Roy Anthony Shabla and Millie Heur. Soon to be released in eBook format, maybe they’ll have a drink and change their minds.