Reviewed By Cindy Widner
[ reprinted from://www.austinchronicle.com/gyrobase/Issue/review?oid=987874]
Murder City: Ciudad Juárez and the Global Economy's New Killing Fields
by Charles Bowden
Nation Books, 352 pp., $27.50
Murder City reads like a nightmare, a recurring one, and not just because of its horrific subject matter. In his account of a year in the world's most homicidal city, Charles Bowden can be found revisiting particular details, people, theories, and events, often repeatedly. Interspersed are history and statistics, the kind that floor you. This impressionistic back-and-forth has the pounding rhythm of a blood tide or an intractable migraine, one that inspires both visions and moments of clarity. Bowden gives lie to the myth that Juárez's grinding, otherworldly killing explosion is a drug-cartel war, one that claims primarily drug dealers and a few people caught in their crossfire. Pointing out that organized crime figures move about with impunity, that law enforcement on all levels has traditionally been allied with the cartels and now terrorizes citizens directly, that the U.S. in many cases trained and armed many of the city's spree killers, that not a single arrest has been made in connection with any murder, that free trade has turned honest work into an impossible nightmare that ends in early death, that the press has long been cowed and ineffective, and that poverty and desperation create their own rules, he concludes that "Violence is now woven into the very fabric of the community, and has no single cause and no single motive and no on-off button." Rather than see this as a sign of regression, though, he concludes that Juárez looks like the future: "All the other things happening in the world – the shattering of currencies, the depletion of resources, the skyrocketing costs of food, energy, and materials – are old hat here." Bowden's statements about the long-running border epidemic of violence against women can be unsettling in that they imply a normalcy in this cross-cultural tendency. It is in those passages, and in his nightmare impressions, though, that we see that Bowden is advancing a theory of human nature, a gesture more typical of art than of reporting. We understand that Murder City aspires to poetry, with the singular voice and tragic bent that implies.