The OF Blog: Minister Faust, The Coyote Kings of the Space-Age Bachelor Pad

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Minister Faust, The Coyote Kings of the Space-Age Bachelor Pad

Comic satires, especially those that are steeped in recent pop (or geek) culture references, are for me among the hardest types of books to review.  Either I end up feeling as though I have to quote copiously to show just exactly what type of pop/geek culture is being sent up, or I find myself just thinking, "Well, it's one of those novels where the reader's own relationships to the material being referenced will determine the success or failure of this story for them."  But then there are those rare hip novels where more than just the pop culture references can be examined and where I can say more than "I loved this novel, but tastes vary and some people may just hate it for the exact same reasons that I loved it."  Minister Faust's 2004 debut novel, The Coyote Kings of the Space-Age Bachelor Pad, happens to be one of those fast-paced, quirky, often humorous and yet at times deadly serious novels that does more than just come off as the book equivalent of Kevin Smith's breakthrough film, Clerks.

The story is set in Edmonton, Canada and revolves around the two "Coyote Kings," the Sudanese Hamza and the Trinidadian Yehat.  College-educated and yet underachieving slackers, Hamza and Yehat work menial jobs while conversing with each other and a few others in language steeped in references to films and shows of the past half-century.  Below is a short scene from Yehat's perspective as he works in a video store and a customer keeps asking dumbass questions about movies and their availability:

I'm ecstatic. I tap away frantically at my computer, but - wait for it -

"It's...out," I whisper.  I'm a Roman centurion...at Masada.

And then he does it.

The Bad Year Jimp, looking very dismayed, chirps, "Hey, do you have Madonna's Truth or Dare?"

"GET OUTTA HERE!" I scream.  "GET THE HELL OUTTA HERE!"

The guy bolts out the door in his Thriller coat, running like Michael J. away from all those zombies.  Considering how the neighborhood's changed here on Whyte Ave, that's not a bad idea, given the proliferation of drunks and punks. (pp. 18-19)
Much of the novel is told in such a fashion, where pop culture references stand in place of typical character development.  One problem that I have had with several recent "geek culture" novels is the lack of true character development, but Faust largely avoids this trap, as the first third or so of his novel does build up the characters and conflicts of both Hamza and Yehat.  During these early chapters, some rather complex examinations of Edmonton's immigrant communities, especially those from various parts of Africa and the West Indies, are presented.  I found myself enjoying these snippets of this burgeoning immigrant society that had formed within Canada's northernmost major city.  The cultural clashes, the mistrust between denizens of various communities, all of this helped make Edmonton feel in turns both exotic and cosmopolitan at the same time, which makes the remaining two-thirds of the novel rise above its pastiche origins.

As Hamza, Yehat, and their friends and enemies are introduced, there begins to be shaped a plot revolving around a mysterious woman, Sherem, and a dark, looming threat in the form of an ancient Egyptian artifact.  Faust does a great job in switching between the various characters, including Sherem, and each has his or her own distinct way of talking.  While doubtless some might find a few of the character PoVs difficult to process due to the use of slang and in one case, a phonetic representation of Jamaican patois, I found this to add a richness to the plot and it kept me reading almost non-stop until I had reached the end.

It must be noted that there is little original in the plot itself, but that pales in contrast to the way that Faust dresses up the standard good/evil adventure plot with his unique takes on his rather geeky main characters and the hot Sherem.  While I could guess elements that were about to happen, the way in which these were presented managed to make these stale plot conventions feel fresh.  The end result was a story that somehow simultaneously was traditional in feel and radically different in tone, feel, and execution.  Highly recommended.

3 comments:

E. L. Fay said...

This doesn't sound like what I usually read. So I must ask: are there actual coyotes in it?

Larry said...

No, no actual coyotes are in here. It's the name that Hamza and Yehat gave to themselves and the other part of the title refers to their apartment.

RobB said...

I read this when it first published and liked it a lot. All the geek references really clicked with me and the book was a lot of fun.

 
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