“Gesell Dome” by Guillermo Saccomanno [Excerpt]
To entice you, below you’ll find a excerpt from the first Saccomanno book we published, Gesell Dome.
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.
Here’s a small section of the novel, translated from the Spanish by Andrea G. Labinger.
It was barely the end of March. And people could talk about nothing but Melina’s suicide. No matter how much they tried to avoid it, Melina slipped into every conversation. The weather: summery. You could still walk around in shirtsleeves. Nights were just cool enough for a sweater. It was on one of those nights. At middle school: that’s where it happened. And what happened distracted us from Melina for a while.
At night school, I was saying, a kid gutted another kid. The murderer, they claimed, was a scrawny little half-breed who kept to himself, and the other one, the victim, another half-breed, a big guy who used to beat up the whole class, including the other guy, the weakling, always teasing him. Until one night last week the bully threw a wad of paper at his target. Not a peep out of the shy one. At his desk, minding his own business. But then he stands up, walks over to the other one, and stabs him with a kitchen knife. Then he splits. A clumsy oaf looking for a hideout, he sneaks into a little shed in back of his house. And what does his saintly mother do? She hauls his ass over to the police station; she turns him in. The cop took him to Dolores, but they say the kid will go free. Because of how meek he was, they say, they’re going to let him go. Because he acted under emotional pressure. And yet they say the kid wasn’t so meek after all, nor did he come from as normal a family as some people swear. Brawlers, the father and the uncles. I was with them at a few asados. I remember a lamb we were carving up at a stand in La Polaca. A drunk hassled one of the uncles. The uncle’s knife was a flash of light. In the end they let the kid go, someone says. And when he returns to night school, the whole gang grabs him and crushes him. Not one bone left unbroken. He’s in the hospital now. In a body cast. Now it seems like there’s going to be a protest in the Villa to make them lock the kid up again. His father’s going to be at the march, too, he said. With his knife. To skin alive the ones who want the kid put away again. Mano a mano or in a mob, he’ll skin them alive, he promised.
And of course it was Moure, the veterinarian, who offered this opinion: Half-breeds shouldn’t be sent to school. They should be sent to gas chambers. He said it with conviction.
Tuesday morning, sitting at the computer as he downed another mug of instant coffee, Dante, the sixtyish publisher and only reporter for El Vocero, our Friday newspaper, after editing the story about the kid who got knifed in a classroom at middle school, wondered how to write about Melina’s suicide, the topic that had brought him there.
Solid gold, that girl. Her father, el Negro Berto, was a likeable, well-regarded guy, but he also had a strong, even irritable, disposition. He would take off his thick glasses, anticipating a fight that never came to pass. Because every outburst was over almost before it began, and he quickly reverted to his good-natured gaucho self. These outbursts, they said, began when he lost his wife and was left alone with Melina, who was three at the time. Since then, although several females fluttered their wings at him, Berto had no romantic history to speak of. Melina was, as they say, the light of his life. My friend, my companion, my sweetheart, he called her. The light of my life. If Berto killed himself working night and day at the shop, it was because he had sworn to himself that the girl would never lack for anything. Only the best for her, he repeated. And when she finished high school, he vowed, Melina would study law. Melina would have a degree. Melina wouldn’t be some common girl like so many in La Virgencita and El Monte. Melina would be someone. And when she got serious about a boy, he would have to embody all the favorable and proper conditions to share his life with a real young lady. All the conditions. And more.
The kids at middle school. First the girl’s suicide. Then the stabbed little half-breed. Murder, Dante thought, was within the realm of normalcy. Why not? Marginality, violence, et cetera. And that et cetera contained a sort of wretchedness that wasn’t his problem, though it was what inspired the crime section of El Vocero, he had to admit, which was running a bit short today. But Melina’s suicide was something else. He couldn’t put aside the secret. The secret, an open secret, was known throughout middle school and also in the neighborhood. The suspense was growing. Not only for Dante. We all wondered how El Negro Berto would react when he found out about his daughter’s romance.
Sharpshooting champion, El Vocero reports. A distinguished and very large Villa crowd attended the traditional Sharpshooting Pistol Competition, sponsored and promoted by the Chamber of Commerce and the Beer Lovers’ Association. It should be noted that the crowd on this occasion was larger than in previous years, which proves that interest in this contest is growing, especially on the part of young people. More than 80 marksmen from Buenos Aires, Madariaga, Mar del Plata, Necochea, and Bahía Blanca were in attendance. There were seven very fluid events, consisting of 9, 16, 18, 19, 20, 21, and 31 shots apiece. The winner in the Unmodified Gun Division was our dear Esteban Armada, 18. The champion received congratulations from our mayor, Alberto Cachito Calderón, who presented him with the trophy. A big shot, Esteban.
The end of March, the air of March, the light of March. I’m at an asado with the Melit.ns in the park of the Transatlantic Building. Juan Melitón is a street cleaner contracted by the city lumberyard. Mariela, his wife, is the custodian of the building. The couple is there with their son, Kevin, along with guests, three of Kevin’s young friends. Like Kevin, they’re all fifteen. And there’s no way around it: it’s hard to move the conversation away from a pregnant girl’s suicide.
One of the kids makes an attempt: I’m glam, says the one in red pants. Not me, says the one with a pierced lower lip. I’m punk. But we all wear skinny jeans. Stovepipe pants—in my day we called them stovepipes. One of the kids, the long-nosed one, is an orphan, Melitón the Gaucho tells me. The pimply one, the one who looks like a wanker, has parents who are separated. We’re reggae, says the kid. And he points to Kevin: I’m gonna be Rasta, Kevin promises. With dreads and everything, he smiles.
And I’ll beat the living shit out of you, his father replies, adding soda to his red wine. He takes a swallow, returns to the grill, and brings chinchulines. As he serves them, the conversation turns to the murder at night school. In addition to Melina’s death, the kids have been hit hard by the knifing at night school. They hadn’t yet gotten over Melina’s tragedy when they were struck by another. Struck, I say. No, grazed. Maybe because at their age these dramas seem like a novel; they get swept up in them. And who doesn’t like to feel he’s part of a novel, right?
A kid knifed another kid, they said. The murderer was shy. He looked like a wuss. And the other guy, a bully, on his case all the time. Till the nerd stuck a knife in him. The zit-covered guy reflects: You gotta watch out for the quiet ones. The one with the big nose says: That dude could really draw. An artist. Cities blown up by death. Vampires, he drew. Skeletons.
And you? Melitón asked. You wanna be like that?
What do you want me to be—a street cleaner like you?
We don’t have the money to pay for a school like Nuestra Señora for you, Mariela tells him. So you’ll have to behave yourself and do okay in middle school.
To be someone, Melitón tells him. Anyone can be a bully with a knife. In workman’s sandals, that’s how I want to see you.
For people from around here, this is the Villa, and when they say Villa, they trace this place back to its origins, the Central European pioneers. Italians, Galicians, those who came from other parts, like the majority, because the majority here came from other parts, not just from Austria, as if Austria was a big deal. Everyone, I’m saying, including the natives, calls this town the Villa. And when they say “Villa,” they feel like a superior, chosen race. The kids, on the other hand, those who were born here, almost all share the single goal of getting the hell out. The stoner snobs who want to keep on kicking back take their surfboards to Costa Rica. The blue-collar kids who are looking to earn some cash go to Spain to become dishwashers or to the States to scrub toilets. Wherever it is, they’ll be better off. Anywhere but the Villa. This damn town, they call it. They’ve got plenty of reasons. Wait till winter and you’ll understand, Dante predicts.