Author: Anthony Wright
Publication date: April 27, 2011
Ordering: Out of print, January 2016
INFERNAL DRUMS takes the reader on a guided tour into the festering underworld of the drug war torn Mexico recent headlines have taught us all to fear. Anthony Wright knows his way around this seedy battlefield.
Infernal Drums explores the spiritual awakening of protagonist Jonah Everman, who regards himself as a writer who drifts, but is really a drifter who writes. Journeying to Mexico, he runs afoul of the law and pays out big to avoid jail. He then heads to the capital where he finds a few kindred spirits, newspaper work, and trouble in spades. Forging an unholy alliance with occult forces, Jonah’s moral destruction seems assured. Or is it?
Anthony Wright, also author of the short story collection Smoke Ghosts & Other Outré Tales, presents powerful storytelling. Wright has been compared to Burroughs, Bowles, Dostoyevsky, Kerouac, and even to some degree Joyce, as he searches out the sacred and profane of contemporary society.
Reviews from Amazon:
Infernal Drums might just be the last of the great drifter novels. To the modern traveler, home is only a Facebook, Twitter or email link away. There is almost no way in the 21st century you could get as lost as Jonah, Bazza, Robinson or any of the other demented and damaged souls in this forlorn tale of thwarted yearnings for lost worlds and transcendent lives.
Set in the mid-90s, Infernal Drums traces the doomed path Jonah Everman, a rootless youngish man of dubious extraction as he seeks his fate in Mexico, only to find himself strung out on cheap tequila working on a 10th-rate news rag in Mexico City after losing his money in a busted drug deal. Tormented by his own illusions, his financial desperation and the maniacal attentions of his horrible boss, Mal Barbary, Jonah and his occultist American buddy Robinson set out to put a hex on Barbary. The result, I will not spoil for you. Needles to say, it’s not a fairy tale.
Wright has gone for a dark, metaphysical take on the travails of his protagonist. All his characters are classic Jungian searcher archetypes; those restless souls in the grip of an itchy yearning to transcend their backgrounds, their bodies and souls, but who are inevitably forced to face the final awful truth — wherever you go, there you are. Wright’s style reflects his reading, and he is not afraid to wear his influences proudly like badges of honour; Ballard, Conrad, Burroughs, Bowles and Melville loom like ghosts in the shadows, sharing the twilight with vampires, goatsuckers and sundry beasties that haunt the spaces in between the main narrative. The action cuts back and forward over continents and into past lives, illuminating links in the chain of events and incidents that lead the characters to their inevitable fates. All the characters are locked in conflict, their self- loathing and frustrations spilling out over onto each other leading to the final tragic conspiracies of Robinson and Everman.
Wright also revels in his love/hate romance with Mexico; the boundless fascination this country exercises over a certain type of expat. As a fellow former Mexico expat I understand all too well the almost morbid fascination with the heart of darkness that beats so close to the surface in Mexico; an ancient land which hosted perhaps the greatest clash of civilizations in history when Spain, inheritor of the 5,000-year old culture of Rome, Athens, Jerusalem and Alexandria, smashed headlong into a culture that had been isolated from the main currents of human history for 25,000 years. With predictable results.
Wright might not paint a rosy picture of expat life, but like a ride on the ghost train at dusk in a shabby fun park circa 1979, if you sit tight and hold on, it’s one hell of a ride.
As a Mexican, I was very pleasantly surprised to read the vision of present-day Mexico that the foreigner/narrator gives the reader in Infernal Drums by Anthony Wright. He pointed out customs and traditions that we take for granted. This reveals the profound research and observation carried out by Wright when writing his novel. His detailed descriptions and figurative language offer great insight to Mexican culture. In particular I would like to quote the beginning of Chapter 20, which I believe is beautifully worded imagery: “Bazza hit Oaxaca City, settled in. It was a pretty, laid back melting pot populated by hard-working mestizo locals, huipil-attired Triquis romantically enlarged by the rose-colored magnifying glass of tourism, and, to perfectly define the latter equation: stout, head-shaven yuppies, fat middle-aged tourists and hairy, tattooed backpackers of all nations and stripes – everyone alien to each other, frightened of each other, hating the other for being there and spoiling their pathetic fantasy of a unique experience that does not and will never happen.” Congratulations to Anthony Wright.
Beneath the errant tale of a backpacker who’d lost his way is a very moving examination of the play of fate – and what is fate but a lot of mumbo jumbo, luck, unanswered prayers, a few bad moves…. all beautifully interwoven into the book and captured in a really powerful way. I loved the way the story just sank deeper and deeper into the s…, despite all efforts – not even any aspiration to succeed but just to stay afloat – and the way it became more & more introspective in parallel until the religious epiphany kicks in. Why? – because what else is there? It’s consistent with Jonah’s style to be going for more mumbo jumbo – just an institutionalised one… like betting with the blue chip shares of the soul this time. He was a Catholic school boy after all…
The story and the themes are a humdinger – I loved it. It’s kind of like a Graham Greene nightmare – it felt very real and very uncomfortable. and in the end very sad.