US forces in Afghanistan are having a hard time doing just about anything they set out to do. This isn’t necessarily a testament to the competency of the soldiers or their leaders—it is simply because they are Americans in Afghanistan. The terrain is harsh and unforgiving. Americans searching for rebels in the Sanglakh mountains could be a lot like…say…Texans hunting for rebels in the Cerrillos Hills.
The aesthetic similarities between the Afghan borderlands and the New Mexican badlands is not lost on novelist Andrew Wice.
“You see pictures on TV of Afghan soldiers standing on a ridge just like that one,” he says as he gestures up to the hill rising behind the Old Coal Mine Museum in Madrid, NM. “And that got me thinking: If anyone were to invade New Mexico, it would be over water, and the invader would be Texas.”
This scenario is the basis of Wice’s To The Last Drop, a novel set in the near future when water is $7 a bottle and restaurants are forced to close due to lack of sanitation.
The story is narrated by a spectrum of desperate, hesitantly heroic men. Eddie Brown, an often-stoned biologist, discovers water deep under the desert by Hobbs. Once New Mexico starts pumping up that agua, it pisses off Texas State Guard Commanding General US Armstrong, whose advisers tell him that the water does, in fact, flow underground from Texas to New Mexico—and thus belongs to Texas.
All hell breaks loose when renegade drunken half-breed and New Mexican patriot Billy Ortiz knocks down some power lines at a Texas pump station. Texas State Guard good ol’ boy Taylor John Bridges, between fantasies about facefuls of poon and pow-pow-pow, busts up a New Mexico State Defense Guard water truck in retaliation.
With the National Guard (still) caught up in the Middle East, Armstrong and his men take it upon themselves to invade New Mexico. They quickly take control of the world’s largest cache of nuclear weapons. From there they seize control of city after city until they hit the Colorado border.
Fighting back, Oritz teams up with the gnarly Diablos biker gang and they have some pow-pow-pow of their own. Brown, along with radical lesbians Lilah and Joanna, commandeer a pirate radio station and spearhead a rebel group. As the tragic-comic story unfolds, allegiances are formed and broken, towns are leveled and shantytowns built, and all along the reader is left to wonder, “Wait…what?”
As I neared the end of To The Last Drop, I flipped back to the beginning to try to pinpoint the catastrophic event that set off this civil war. Did I miss something?
“No,” Wice says when I ask him about the moment. “I didn’t want there to be a big event, a USS Maine or anything in this story.”
Indeed, this is often how wars like these come up; someone pops Ferdinand and Isabella, or Saddam Hussein gives the stars and bars a dirty look, and suddenly folks are hurling grenades.
The testosterone-fueled insanity that grips the territory of New Texas spawns a sublimely offensive nickname for the New Mexican insurgency: the “Tortilla Terrorists.” Never mind that the majority of the New Mexican rebels are white. Familiarly, if they are “terrorists,” they must have dark skin, and vice versa.
There are many nudges, as well as all-out jabs, at the United States’ occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan.
I just had to ask, “Is this novel a satire?”
Wice shakes his head, a darkly amused smile on his face. “This government is beyond being able to satire,” he says. “It’s just so over-the-top, all we can do now is ridicule.”
The federal government isn’t the only one in the spotlight here; New Mexico is just as guilty. “We just keep building more golf courses and more people keep moving here, and there’s no foresight,” Wice laments.
Is To The Last Drop a prophecy? A foreshadowing? A carefully calculated answer to the equation we’re still writing with each gallon down the drain?
Wice finishes his iced coffee—a drink that is 98 percent water—in Madrid, a town whose pipes carry gray, non-potable H2O. Revelers at the gypsy fest down the street kick up clouds of dust next to a bone-dry arroyo. Rocky hills rise up around Madrid, closing in on thirsty people and dripping taps smelling of sulfur.
To The Last Drop
By Andrew Wice
Bauu Press, 310 pages, $16