Gesell Dome by Guillermo Saccomanno [An Open Letter Book to Read]
This is a new, hopefully weekly, feature highlighting a different book from our catalog in each post. Even though this book is pretty recent (official pub date just a few weeks ago August), I plan on going deep into our backlist in the near future.
Gesell Dome by Guillermo Saccomanno, translated from the Spanish by Andrea G. Labinger
Original Language: Spanish
Author’s Home Country: Argentina
Original Date of Publication: 2013
Awards Won: The 2013 Dashiell Hammett Award! (There are multiple Hammett awards. This is the one for works written in Spanish in comparision to the one for English. In 2013, Angel Baby by Richard Lange won the English version of the prize.) It’s worth noting that this is the second time Saccomanno won the Hammett Award. He also won in 2008 for a novel called 77.
Also, Andrea Labinger won a PEN Heim Award for her translation.
Other Interesting Biographical Details: Saccomanno lives in Villa Gesell, the resort town where the novel is set. Additionally, before becoming a literary writer, he wrote comic books. Some of these appear to be ongoing (at least according to what I’m gleaning from his Spanish Wikipedia entry) including Leopoldo.
Description of the Book: Like True Detective through the lenses of William Faulkner and John Dos Passos, Gesell Dome is a mosaic of misery, a page-turner that will keep you enthralled until its shocking conclusion.
This incisive, unflinching exposé of the inequities of contemporary life weaves its way through dozens of sordid storylines and characters, including an elementary school abuse scandal, a dark Nazi past, corrupt politicians, and shady real-estate moguls. An exquisitely crafted novel by Argentina’s foremost noir writer, Gesell Dome reveals the seedy underbelly of a popular resort town tensely awaiting the return of tourist season.
A Non-Jacket Copy Description: This is about Villa Gesell, a small resort town run by four corrupt assholes, and filled with violence, adultery, drug deals, and tons of other crimes that no one ever attempts to solve or rectify in any way whatsoever.
Praise from Famous People: We’re not the best at getting blurbs, but I did tell Ed Brubaker (who wrote an episode of HBO’s Westworld, which looks totally sick) about this book at BEA and he said something to the effect of “fuck yeah, I’d love to read that.” Which counts.
Praise from Booksellers: ““The first two pages of Gesell Dome, the first novel from Argentine author Guillermo Saccomanno to be translated into English, are enough to seduce any reader and a testament to the vitality of international fiction. Dark, daring and epic in scope, Gesell Dome is a damning verdict of contemporary life and human nature. The novel reveals the corrupt underbelly of a resort town when the tourists leave. Abounding with shady characters, all seemingly competing for worst resident on earth, Gesell Dome becomes a chorus of corruption and greed, of savagery and ruthlessness. It’s both vicious and unforgettable. Think Louis-Ferdinand Céline on vacation in South America.”—Mark Haber, Brazos Bookstore
Audience: This book will appeal to anyone who likes neo-noir novels, books that are violent, or portraits of small, corrupt towns. That’s not to say it isn’t literary—the mosaic-like form that it employs allows Saccomanno to create fascinating juxtapositions, to paint a picture of a uncontrollably violent world, and to introduce hundreds of compelling characters.
Another “X Meets Y” Formulation: Like CSI meets Julio Cortázar. Or like “The Part about the Crimes” from 2666 as told in a tabloid.
Publicity: Well, the book just came out, so there haven’t been a ton of reviews yet. (But hopefully there will be in the near future.) That said, Saccomanno was profiled in Publishers Weekly as one of the fall Writers to Watch
Saccomanno, who has been living in Villa Gesell for most of the past 30 years, began work on the book in 2005. While writing he had the sense, he says, “that the town itself was dictating the story to me.” He adds, “Tolstoy supposedly said, ‘Describe your village and you will be universal.’ That idea was the driving force behind this novel. Violence, addiction, domestic violence, sexual abuse, blackmail, corruption, the lives that unfold in this atmosphere, all called out to me.”
PW also gave it a starred review, stating:
Never was there a cityscape as immersive, or a populace as rife with iniquity, as in Argentinian writer Saccomanno’s noirish Gesell Dome, his first novel to be translated into English. [. . .] Like Twin Peaks reimagined by Roberto Bolaño, Gesell Dome is a teeming microcosm in which voices combine into a rich, engrossing symphony of human depravity.
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.
Longer Excerpts: The first long excerpt I posted from the this book—which I did in a fit of excitement when I finished proofing it—is online here.
As part of our catalog, you can also read section from the beginning “here.“http://www.openletterbooks.org/pages/gesell-dome-excerpt
Personal Pitch: When I first read Andrea’s sample—the one that got her the PEN Heim Award—I was most intrigued by the structure. It’s a bit ADD, jumping from thread to thread, character to character—which is something that appeals to me personally for a few different reasons. This sort of fragmented structure eliminates a lot of the slow build, scene setting crap that I don’t care for in most contemporary fiction. In Gesell Dome, each fragment thrusts you right into a new life or situation. For example, I randomly opened a copy of the book and got this opening line, “Mable, the teller at Banco Provincia, wife of Mario Pertuzzi of Electromar, wasn’t pregnant when she and Daniel became lovers.” That’s all you need about Mabel before launching into her story. No pages of setting, no attempt to create her character through objective signifiers and objects—just a simple statement and you’re off.
Recently, like yesterday, I decided that for the time being, I was only going to read books that I knew I wasn’t going to fully understand on the first go. Thinks like Sokolov’s Between Dog & Wolf, Can Xue’s Frontier (well, reread in that case), or maybe Alan Moore’s Jerusalem. I realized that the only joy I’ve been getting out of books recently (like with Fresan’s The Invented Part, Blas de Robles’s Island of Point Nemo, and Pola Oloixarac’s Savage Theories) is the fun of trying to figure shit out. I’ve written—and lectured—about this a billion times, about the way the brain processes declarative, concrete statements versus what happens when you’re forced to puzzle things out, but for a while, I feel like I lost my way as a reader and was seeking pleasure in the straightforward, in the books that were written to be simply pleasurable. Which is dumb, since the idea of reading the new Foer book doesn’t sound pleasurable at all. It sounds like consuming shit in order to generate new mini-rants. That’s not the way to live.
Gesell Dome isn’t “incomprehensible” like Finnegans Wake, but there is a strain on the reader to, first of all, remember who the fuck all these characters are and how they’re related, but then to also see the overall pattern. This is a book that doesn’t have a single plot, but a multitude, some of which cross, others that run parallel, all of which help create a verbal tapestry depicting a town awash in misery and desperation. And we all know that misery is much more interesting to read about than joy and happiness. Regardless, the reading experience of having to piece things together is so gratifying and fun.
Finally, this is a novel of voices, which is another reason I like to read—to hear distinct ways of saying things. I mean this on a truly ground floor, sentence by sentence, level. Obviously, hearing different viewpoints from all over the world is valuable and interesting and mind-expanding, but I really like hearing how individuals express themselves. Verbal patterns, particular word choices and tics, etc. And Gessel Dome has a lot of that. These characters relate their own private sadnesses in their own peculiar way, and as a reader, you can just let it wash over you—like the sounds of the sea that are a constant throughout the book, rising and falling, tide in, tide out—hearing from myriad viewpoints one after another, some funny, all a bit damaged, and every one unique. That polyvocality is what truly won me over in terms of this book.
Buy it: Obviously, you can get this from your local bookshop or online retailer, but you can also buy it directly from us directly by clicking here. Or you can always subscribe to Open Letter—the best way to receive some of the most varied and interesting voices of international literature, delivered right to your door each and every month.
Next week I’ll be back with a different Open Letter title—a deep cut from the backlist . . .