Another Really "Important" Book We Publish: Guillermo Saccomanno's "Gesell Dome"
Last night I got a bunch of people excited on Twitter (my feed is a bit more . . . schizoid than the official Open Letter feed, although you should follow that one too!) about Guillermo Saccomanno’s Gesell Dome, so I thought I’d share a bit more about this book.
We signed this on a while back, shortly after translator Andrea G. Labinger won a 2014 PEN Heim Translation Grant for her work on this.1 She sent us a longish sample (similar to this one but a few times longer)
This is a novel in voices, all set within Villa Gesell, a real-life resort town a few hours from Buenos Aires. Like most resort towns, it’s very popular in the summer months, but the winter is a bit of a slog. Like most small towns, this Villa is corrupt as fuck. There’s a group of “Kennedys” who pull all the strings on public projects, awarding contracts to relatives, not really giving a shit about the local citizens who spend 700+ pages cheating on each other, killing each other, committing suicide, suffering generally.
It’s a book told in fragments, with a single story stretched out over pages as it’s interrupted by anecdotes from Dante (who runs the local newspaper), first-person reflections. ads for any number of self-help and other groups, and other random things. Given this format and given the endless violence, it’s like Dos Passos mixed with Roberto Bolaño’s “The Part about the Crimes.”
Reading books like this—a fragmentary mosaic of sorts—requires letting the rhythm of the text take you over. The hundreds of characters, dozens of voices take you over and impose themselves, creating their own tragic, comic beats. Last night I fell into this book in the most complete of ways. It went from being “really, really good” to blowing my shit away completely. Which is why I’m sharing it here.
Enjoy! The book comes out next August and I’ll post more information as the time grows closer.
You know, I had this idea, jefe, Remigio says. We could make a pile of dough. The two of us, partners.
Partners in what, Dante asks.
In a novel, Remigio goes on. A pile of dough. With the secrets I know about this Villa and your flair for writing, we’d make one hell of a novel. I tell you what I know about everybody. And you write it.
A best seller, Dante goads him on. That’s what you’re thinking of.
But secret, a secret best seller. One that’ll never get published.
I don’t get it.
Simple, jefe. You write a novel about the Villa, one chapter for each character. Chicks and dudes. When the chapter’s done, I leap into action. I go see the person and tell them someone is writing a novel about the Villa. And that the person, a chick or a dude, shows up in one chapter. I give them a copy of the chapter to read. When they read it, they’re gonna want to kill themselves. Who wants their deepest secrets made public. Imagine the Villa’s secrets, the involvements, because here everyone is involved, in one way or another, with everyone else. When the characters read their part in the novel, the first thing they’ll think of is how to keep their chapter from coming out. And they’ll pay up, for sure. Since everyone here has a price, figure it out. Bingo! Everyone pays up. We’ll make a fortune.
A secret text, Dante says.
Call it whatever you want, jefe. You’re the one in charge of words. My job’s just to collect the dirty laundry. Yours is to write about it. And then I go by to collect.
And when the novel’s finshed, Dante asks. What then.
We’re not gonna be dumb enough to publish it. Our best seller’s gonna be a secret. That’s the cool part. Whadda you say.
We’d have to think it over carefully.
I’ve already thought it over, Remigio says. The only thing left is for you to make up your mind.
And what about fame, Dante asks. Because every writer is after glory. Let’s say I like fame.
Don’t give me that fame stuff, jefe. Death isn’t serious. Besides, what do you expect from posterity, tell me: a street with your name on it. Think it over right here and now. What matters is now, enjoying life.
Now the night envelops the car as it pulls up to the first lights of the Villa. Through his dark lenses, a blink of shimmer. Dante lights another cigarette. In spite of the shadows, Remigio scrutinizes him through the rear view mirror.
Don’t tell me it’s not a good idea, he says. Look how your face has changed. Imagine for a second what it would be like. We rake in the money and split. Think it over, jefe. It’s not every day such a great opportunity comes along. And when it does, you can’t let it slip away. You could get yourself not one Chiquita, but thousands of ‘em, whichever Chiquita you like. You know how many Chiquitas are on the horizon.
If everything is written, so too is the next act. And against that one, we cannot rebel. The most we can do is to read it. In the facts, in the sky, in the wind. But our condition as readers is conditioned. Beforehand. Never afterward. We don’t know what we’re here for. Sometimes we think we suspect why. But our suspicions can never be confirmed. Among other reasons, because when we think we’re sure of a cause, the effect unnerves us: it responds to a different reason. If we are nothing but texts, we are innocent. It’s true that these lines of reasoning aim to free us of guilt. As long as we are words, we might reason, let no one be blamed. In any case, the guiltiest party is none other than the author of our days. And yes, to believe that God is the author of our story doesn’t free us of guilt, but it does offer some relief. God is our consolation. Though if we really think about the matter, God is crafty: all He does is deceive us with readings, force us to doubt everything all the time, even His own existence. And then we ask ourselves if any greater evil than that – constant doubt – can be written, a doubt that gradually becomes suspicion, and so we end up suspecting not only everyone else, but ourselves as well. No, I’m not the one who’s writing this line.
If you’re a local and your parents come for the long weekend, you’ll have to put up with your wife’s constipated expression. And if your in-laws come, try to keep your plastic smile from becoming facial paralysis. Because, tell me, who can put up with their parents or in-laws in the house for three days straight. And let’s not even talk about your sister-in-law and her boyfriend. And you know there’s a kind of vibe between you and that little slut. So you’ve gotta proceed with extreme caution. Then there are the kids. If they’re not glued to the TV all day long, you’ve got them on top of you, bitching that they’re bored. Forget about a quickie with your wife. After lunch, when you’re logy and feel like taking a nap, along comes the witch, telling you to take the family out for a ride. And you’ve gotta get them all into the car and take them for a spin. Head toward the beach, they ask you. Till they wear you out, and even though you know you could get trapped in the sand, you let them have their way and look for a road down to the beach through the dunes. For a while you feel like it was worth it to indulge them, driving along the shore. That half-adventurous, half-romantic feeling. Until it’s time to turn around and go back, and you realize that the car is starting to get stuck. Everybody out. Get out and push. Hand me a shovel. There’s no shovel, asshole. There’s gotta be one. Take out the mat and put it under the wheels. Help me dig. And the tide coming in. The tide. Call the Auto Club. It’s got no charge, stupid. You forgot to charge the cell phone. I’m cold, Dad. Me too, Dad. Get into the car. I told you, idiot, I told you we’d get stuck on the beach. Now it’s raining buckets.
And the tide. The tide. The tide.
Once there was a sea lion. It washed up on this beach, to the south. For days it was stuck in the sand. It looked like it was dying. Wounds all over, abrasions.Along its flanks the skin was open, its flesh red, purple, dark. Every so often it moved its head. It was dying slowly. The beach dogs came over to it. Although the sea lion hardly moved, none of them got too close. If the sea lion, always in the same place, moved just a little, the dogs would back up, barking. Then came a long weekend. The tourists brought their children to see the oddity. The kids gathered stones . And threw them at it. A fun game, stoning it. The boldest ones, goaded by their parents, went after sticks to poke in its wounds. The parents seemed to enjoy it more than their children. You should’ve seen how they cheered them on. Till a southeaster knocked over the crowd of adults and children. The rising tide dragged the sea lion back into the ocean. No doubt when they returned to the city, the kids would have a good story to tell. A children’s tale. And they lived happily ever after.
Look at me: if there’s one gift I’ve got, it’s talent. I had the talent to come here. Mine was a literary decision. Because there’s nowhere else as ideal as the Villa if you want to write. No sooner did I get set up in a house in the forest than I got started on a novel. With what I inherited from my old man, who was a judge, since I’m not not the spending kind, I could and still can affort art. I gave him the first half of the novel. A combination of Henry Miller and Raymond Carver, my masters, from whom I leared to seek and find my own voice. Fly, Crazy Heart, it’s called. But I didn’t finish it. What happened was, when I was halfway through I got into songwriting. Because I also have talent for music. I wrote twenty-four, all at once. For a double album: I Surrender, I was gonna call it. Romantic songs, protest songs, metaphysical stuff. Kinda like a combination of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, with a touch of Bob Marley, too, but with my own personal seal, because I’ve got a style. I’ve always played, since I was a boy. First I played piano. Then I turned to guitar. One afternoon when I wasn’t thinking about anything, I picked it up and that’s how it went, first one, then another, and another. And without weed or booze. I’m not trying to tell you all twenty-four are brilliant, but there’s material for an album. They’re more like variations on the theme of the novel, which is autobiographical. And there they are – any time now I’ll go back to music. What happens is that having talent isn’t so simple. For example, when I was about to sign on with an independent label, I started thinking about the album cover and I got into painting. I always had talent for the visual arts. As a kid I won several sketching contests; I went to a painting workshop and even took part in a collective exhibition. A style somewhere between Rothko and Pollock was what my first stuff was like, but with a vibe of my own. I almost had the sample ready: Fly, Crazy Heart. Of course, the images I captured had to do with my personal thing. And that’s what I was into till recently. But I hit a dry spell. Sometimes inspiration takes its time. Sometimes it comes sooner, when you least expect it. And this place, I mean, it’s ideal if you’ve got talent. Now I’m taking it easy. You know, inspiration means a lot in art. And around here there are lots of people like me, people with talent, who understand you. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about ceramics and I’d really like to set up a little kiln out back, but I don’t want to rush things. It’s not a matter of going around starting a lot of stuff without finishing anything. It’s the risk of having talent, you know. That’s why the thing I don’t give up on is soccer. And I don’t miss a single Wednesday match with the boys. I’ve been living in the Villa for thirty-seven years and I’ve never missed a Wednesday soccer match. Because having talent for soccer and being a ten like me isn’t easy. You’ve gotta control talent like the ball. Because talent can result in a goal scored against you. What counts is precision, discipline, staying in shape.
Anita López tells the story at Gonza’s funeral. She had trouble getting over what happened to her in the classroom. She was teaching The Slaughteryard, as she never tires of explaining, when Julián Mayorano pulled out that automatic pistol. She was writing on the board. She’d felt the class’s silence, a silence that always makes you think before turning around, because if they’re quiet it’s because they’re doing something. She turned around. It wasn’t the kind of silence she’d thought. It was the silence of terror.
Julián Mayorano, standing, poking the gun barrel into his mouth. She doesn’t remember what she said to the boy, if she managed to say anything at all. Julián didn’t look like he was listening to reason. The silence was all that could be heard. She walked toward the boy, holding out her hand, hoping he would hand over the weapon. Please, Anita said. The only thing that came out of her was that please. With her hand extended. She was close to him when Julián squeezed the trigger.
The son of a well-known family, the Mayoranos, owners of one of the important home goods stores around here, Julián had a car, a motorcycle. He was a good student, not outstanding, but a good, hard-working kid. He was dating the adorable Gabrielita Ferri, daughter of a very Catholic family. Gabi was the one who cried for him the most. That boy had everything, says Anita to anyone who wants to listen. He must’ve also had a reason to kill himself.
We found out a few months after the classroom suicide, when Gabi’s started to show. She refused to have an abortion. Julián threatened to kill himself if she carried the pregnancy to term. She replied that if she had to choose between the two deaths, she preferred his. And Julián granted her wish.
You’re welcome! You should be able to preorder this in the near future, and for now, you can always add it to your GoodReads shelf.
1 Sorry, on a footnote kick today. But does it seem wrong to anyone else that you have to live in New York to serve on the Heim Translation grant committee? As a result, I’ve never been asked to serve, and our competitors essentially have first crack at all the books submitted for the award. Doesn’t seem right to me at all . . . I mentioned this to the PEN Translation Committee when they mentioned this qualification at a public event. I call this geographical discrimination! Good thing the judges didn’t snap up all the great works. Maybe they’ll wait until we build an audience for them first. (Kidding!)