Carlos Busqued - Equal parts stoner pulp thriller and psycho-physiological horror story, a pervasive sense of dread mixes with a cloud of weed smoke to seep into every line of the disturbing, complex Under This Terrible Sun
Carlos Busqued, Under This Terrible Sun, Trans. by Megan McDowell, Frisch and Co. 2013.
read it at Google Books
A stoner travels to remote Argentina to identify the bodies of his murdered mother and brother. What could possibly go wrong?Cetarti spends his days in a cloud of pot smoke, watching nature documentaries on television. He is torn from his lethargy by a call informing him that his mother and brother have been murdered, and that he must identify the bodies.
After making sure he has enough weed for the trip, he sets out to the remote Argentinian village of Lapachito, an ominous place where the houses are sinking deeper and deeper into the mud and a lurid, horrific sun is driving everyone crazy. When Duarte, a former military man turned dedicated criminal, ropes Cetarti into a scheme to cash in on his mother’s life insurance, events quickly spiral out of control…
A riveting, thrilling, and shocking read, Under This Terrible Sun paints the portrait of a civilizational in terminal decline, where the border between reality and nightmare has become increasingly blurred.
"Like a hallucinogenic nightmare on a hot night. . . Definitely not an ordinary reading experience."—kulturnews.de
‘There is a latent primal energy that courses just beneath the surface, but never actually breaks through… it's a harrowing journey’ - The Indiscriminate Critic
‘Aside from the train wreck like inescapability of it all, the rubber necking that you take part in as a reader, the realization that as much as you want to you can’t look away, you can’t put down the book, you must keep turning the pages to see what happens next, even though you know it’s going to ruin you emotionally, as if you need more, a big part of what makes Under This Terrible Sun work so effectively is that Busqued refuses to let you escape the grasp of his chosen subjects for even a single second.’ - Typographical Era
Equal parts stoner pulp thriller and psycho-physiological horror story, a pervasive sense of dread mixes with a cloud of weed smoke to seep into every line of the disturbing, complex Under This Terrible Sun. Originally published by illustrious Spanish publishers Editorial Anagrama, Under This Terrible Sun is Argentine journalist-cum-novelist Carlos Busqued’s debut novel in both Spanish and now English.
I don’t read many gruesome novels, so I don’t know exactly which other books to compare this novel to, but the vibe of Under This Terrible Sun reminds me of the creeping evil that saturates the movie Se7en, and not in the least because most of the deadly sins crop up throughout Busqued’s novel in various guises. The plot of Under This Terrible Sun is comprised of a convoluted series of events, with only a few central characters around whom the action takes place, and most of the action itself is moved forward by a true old-fashioned villain, who, in the end, receives his comeuppance through a deus ex machina event that wraps up this fucked-up story of greed, sloth, and murder a little too nicely. But boy, let me tell you, the story that leads to the ending is worth reading. The first time I read it, I was disconcerted by how easily I was flying through the book, how easily my eyes and mind were gliding over the events taking place on the page, which were pretty gruesome. But then I went back through the novel a second time to prepare for this review and realized that this story had more going on than I realized at first—and that was the most stomach-churning part: our society has become so dehumanized that we’ve become immune to horrific images and reports of violence. Nothing shocks us anymore. This book didn’t shock me, and that’s the disturbing part. It should have.
The novel opens with Javier Cetarti, a shiftless loser who was fired from his job six months earlier and who was just about to run out of money and, more importantly, marijuana, when he receives a phone call from a guy named Duarte in a tiny village called Lapachito, far to the north of Cordoba, where Cetarti lives. Duarte has some bad news: Cetarti’s mother and brother had been killed by his mother’s live-in boyfriend, who also killed himself as the coup de grace of the grisly bloodbath. Cetarti hardly reacts to the news, but gets in the car and makes the 600+ kilometer drive up north when Duarte tells him there is some sort of life insurance policy involved, and Cetarti has the chance to cash in:
Of all the news Duarte had given him the night before, Cetarti had been most motivated to drive to Lapachito by the news that there was a life insurance policy to collect. He had been booted out of his job six months before (lack of initiative, discouraging behavior), and he had eaten through almost all of his compensation without lifting a finger.
For a dude who sits around smoking pot all day, refusing to work, this is a pretty sweet chance, and it also forms the introduction, within the first five pages, to Cetarti’s questionable moral impulse. This lack of morality becomes one of the main themes that dominates Cetarti’s universe vividly portrayed by Busqued in Under This Terrible Sun.
Cetarti arrives in his mother’s village, a wasteland that seems like the set of a horror story come to life: the houses are sinking into the mud caused by an industrial accident, the city is literally collapsing in on itself, poisonous beetles are taking over (although Cetarti is pretty sure there are no poisonous beetles, everyone tells him the beetles he sees everywhere are poisonous), and the residents can’t be bothered to leave because they just get used to it, as Duarte tells Cetarti. Welcome to Lapachito; it may be its own layer of hell.
Duarte lets Cetarti in on the life insurance scheme he’s concocted. Turns out, Cetarti’s mom’s live-in boyfriend, Molina, took out a life insurance policy before the massacre, and Cetarti could technically lay claim to the loot. It involves some questionable dealings, greasing the palms of government officials, and it doesn’t take long before you realize Duarte is hardly an ally, he’s as shady as it gets and completely incapable of doing Good. But he’s still promising Cetarti a sizeable payday, and he supplies Cetarti with tons of good weed, so Cetarti can’t complain.
Cetarti joins Duarte to visit his mother’s house, where the killing took place, and when they open the door they meet Molina’s ex-wife, who is there cleaning everything up. Cetarti goes through his mother’s and brother’s belongings without emotion, takes a few items, including what turns out to be keys to his brother’s apartment in Cordoba. The next day, he visits Duarte at home and gets a little creeped out, but rather laconically, as is Cetarti’s style, by some of the pornography that Duarte keeps laying around his house. Along with building a fleet of intricately-detailed model airplanes that are referenced throughout the novel, and paralleled by the characters watching a series of military documentaries on TV, Duarte is in the process of digitizing a fleet of brutal VHS porno tapes he’d collected, with titles too vile to mention here. He explains his choice of this particularly violent and nasty pornography to Cetarti:
“There’s some pornography you don’t watch to jerk off, you watch it more out of curiosity about how far the human species will go . . . This is what I was telling you is interesting, to see the limits of what a person is capable of doing or letting others do to them. That old woman, I picture her getting dressed with her ass all destroyed, taking the subway, buying chocolates for her grandchildren with the money she just earned by letting them do that to her . . .”
Duarte is obsessed with seeing how far the human species will go—and not just on video. A man of action, Duarte is a vibrant character: completely evil, completely amoral, completely unsympathetic, and for all of these reasons, a fascinating character. Although he commits all sorts of extortion schemes for money, he seems far more driven by the thought of pushing human bodies to their breaking point than in receiving money for anything. Which is terrifying.
Around this time we meet his henchman, a fat, shiftless pothead named Danielito, who is the son of the deceased Molina and Molina’s ex-wife. Duarte uses Danielito’s basement to hold hostages, seeking a ransom from the victim’s family at the same time as he abuses and violates the victims. Danielito is an all-too-willing accomplice to the torture, feeding the victims, but otherwise staying out of the way and letting Duarte enact his most revolting fantasies on his victims (fortunately, only alluded to).
The point of view at this point in the novel begins to alternate between Cetarti and Danielito, Duarte is never the focal point, the narrative proceeds through Cetarti and Danielito’s THC-reddened eyes, but he is the connection between the two characters (who don’t meet until much later in the novel), and only through Duarte do the parallels between their weed-soaked lives become evident: they sit around, smoke weed, eat sometimes, and watch nature and war documentaries on TV constantly. The subjects of these documentaries (elephants in southeast Asia, giant squids, WWII) recur over and over again in both characters’ lives.
The interplay between inhuman humans and mysterious deadly creatures of land and sea forms one of the most interesting themes of the novel, which shouldn’t be surprising given the novel’s epigraph, taken from Alfred Tennyson’s “The Kraken”: “ . . . Then once by man and angels to be seen, / In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die.”
In one particularly creepy scene from which the novel’s title is lifted, Danielito’s mother asks him to accompany her to another shitty village far from Lapachito in order to steal the bones of her firstborn son, who died before he was a year old and who, much to Danielito’s chagrin, is also named Daniel, and leads Danielito to fantasize about elephants he’d heard from Duarte were man-killers in southeast Asia, a theme that is first raised in conversation between Cetarti and Duarte much earlier in the novel. This particular scene is also an excellent example of Busqued’s narrative technique, and illustrates the overall vibe of the novel:
bq. He couldn’t avoid a shudder when he read, painted on the tin heart: DANIEL MOLINA 2-12-1972/10-4-1973. He looked at his mother. She was staring at the sunken earth. bq. “Poor thing, all these years under this terrible sun.” bq. He dug apprehensively. The earth was soft, but he felt no urge to speed up. He was soaked in sweat. Around the cemetery there was an island of empty land, and after a hundred meters the bush-covered mountain. He remembered the documentary about the elephants of Mal Bazaar. He imagined one of those elephants emerging from the forest. He imagined it coming towards them. A complex and powerful body that shook the earth at each step. But the elephant wouldn’t attack them, he thought. It would approach them calmly and with a certain curiosity. It would stop beside them, touching them gently with its trunk. And then it would fall to the ground. Or disappear into thin air. Or something, anything else. But it wouldn’t hurt them. “Almost every mahout is an alcoholic,” he remembered. How nice to be an alcoholic, he though, how nice to be murdered by an elephant. Something, anything else.
Cetarti eventually goes home to Cordoba and moves out of his apartment into the place where his brother had been living, accumulating massive amounts of junk (bug collections, Readers Digest, orange peels) in a strange part of town called Hugo Wast, a mysterious neighborhood where nobody owns their houses, but rather squats in them, located near the municipal slaughterhouse, which gives the area a particular smell when the wind blows in the right way. Cetarti eventually gets the money from Duarte and—to make a long story short and to glaze over Duarte doing some dastardly deeds and Danielito’s mother morphing into a very interesting and strong secondary character on whom many words could be written alone—Cetarti eventually gets wrapped up in another one of Duarte’s schemes, which leads to the rather abrupt ending (which comes about a bit too neatly for me).
As I said, I’m not one for gruesome novels, so I can assure you that this novel, despite being disturbing, is worth reading. It’s shocking and interesting in ways that literary novels rarely achieve. I mentioned Se7en above: it’s actually a pretty good comparison, the same creeping dread and inhuman elements are at play, which is actually refreshing to read in Busqued’s telling, capturing some of the more interesting morally-questionable elements of humanity that are usually only portrayed in Scandinavian (or other styles of) detective thrillers. Busqued is a good writer, sparse at times, maintaining a narrative distance from the characters’ impulses while simultaneously opening the door into some of their thoughts. His sentences are seemingly simplistic in construction, but all the while gather elements and build up to a pulse-quickening crescendo, all told via the quality work of translator, Megan McDowell (a UT-Dallas translation program alumna!).
As one of new ebook-only publisher Frisch & Co.‘s first titles, they have done an admirable job of bringing Busqued’s novel into English as part of their unique partnership with Editorial Anagrama, in which they will publish two books a year from the Spanish-language publishers in digital formats. It remains to be seen if Frisch & Co. will partner with anybody to do physical copies of these books, but either way, in any format, Under This Terrible Sun is a damn good read. - Will Evans
The set up must always appear simple. That’s how noir works. What you first took to be the simplicity of characters and plot has to slowly reveal itself to be, not just hard-boiled and tough for its own sake, but a way of expressing mysteriously profound moral ambiguities. In other words, the detective isn’t terse because he has all the answers — he’s terse because he’s in over his head and he knows it. Under This Terrible Sun, the debut novel of the Argentine writer Carlos Busqued, is a noir thriller. As such, the set up appears simple: Cetarti, a young Argentinian stoner, is given word that both his mother and brother have been murdered by his mom’s lover — who then killed himself. Cetarti is asked by a man named Duarte, the executor of the deceased murderer, to journey to a small country town in order to tie up the financial and legal loose ends. Cetarti seems unphased by all of this.
As befits a good noir novel, the imbibing of substances makes it possible for the narrator to distance himself from the violence of the plot. Traditionally that substance has been alcohol, but Cetarti, along with a number of other characters, prefer to smoke their crutch rather than drink it. Stoner Noir is almost a subsubgenre — occupying a space somewhere in the “crime fiction” galaxy, and hot boxing a cop car under an overpass somewhere in the seedy side of the city of “Noir”. Regardless, people have been exposed to it. Think of Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice, or, more in the pop culture vein, the movie The Big Lebowski or the HBO show Bored To Death.
Maybe we should come to expect more noir in translation to have a stoner bent. Stoner culture is an international culture, after all. The symbols and rituals of getting high, the bongs and papers and clips and pipes, are similar enough from country to country to create a sort of Universal Catholic Church of marijuana — the local dioceses might cater a bit to native proclivities, but the basic tenets hold and everyone is roughly on the same page. That alone of course wouldn’t be enough of a reason to choose weed over whisky when publishing noir for an international audience, but there’s another reason weed makes more sense than alcohol as the drug of choice in noir: stoner culture and noir, when both are at their best, are experiments in mood and atmospherics — they insinuate that you’ve stumbled into a secret world running parallel to ours. A shadow world. Alcohol isn’t about noticing things, about making strange connections — it’s about lowering inhibitions. In this sense, marijuana is a substance more in tune with mystery.
And so Cetarti goes to the tiny town of Lapachito in order to take care of his family’s business. As strange and morbid as that business is, there’s an interesting paradox to it all: the murder/suicide seems in the same instant both more grizzly than the facts of the crime, pouring over the borders of its own localized tragedy to hint at something almost cosmic, while also being subsumed in the atmosphere of general decay that haunts the text. The pretense, of course, is that because the crime is described so matter of factly, so simply, that its meaning must be manifestly obvious and self-contained. But what actually happens, how the story actually works, is that something essential about the crime projects itself in ghostly emanations to radiate a paranoid meaning. The three bodies remind us of our own deaths. The weird familial intimacy of the crime reminds us of the deaths of everyone we know. The simple finality of the action seems somehow connected to all violence ever committed, of the mass extinction of mankind, and possibly even of the final and ultimate end of what we understand to be physical reality. Only a Stoner Noir novel could so deftly create such a paranoid sense of doom — and like stoners, we project hidden meanings in the silences of the text.
So one half of this Stoner Noir paradox is that the deaths hint at significance beyond their literal meaning. But the other half is that they’re not necessarily the mystery to be solved. The mystery isn’t the murder, the suicide, or even the enigmatic evil that seems to motivate many of the characters — rather the mystery is one of qualitative abundance: in this place, where everything seems suffused with meaning, what actually matters? What’s actually important? In a place where things radiate cryptic messages, calling to you in spectral whispers, how do you focus on a single thread of meaning without being subsumed by the entire fabric? A few examples in the text of exhaustive lists of things that may or may not be significant:
There were several low buzzing sounds, and Duarte took his cell phone from a pocket. He pushed a button and greeted someone at the other end. He mentioned for Cetarti to wait a moment, and he disappeared into the inner part of the house. Cetarti killed time looking through the titles of videos piled up next to the TV: Monsters of She Male Cock, Asses Wide Open 11, Anal Cum Swappers #14, Squirtin’ Vixens #3, Enema Nurses, Anal Grannies 25, Blowjob Ninjas, Transsexual Babysitters 02, Large Pussy Bonanaza, Anal Slavery Cumpilation, Some Bitches Drink It All Up, Fetish Island #37, Extreme German Tortures 5.
In the bathroom, next to the bidet and up against the wall, hundreds of copies of Reader’s Digest, very old but in good condition, were piled up. He flipped through one from 1962: the dangers of communism in Southeast Asia, the drama of a man trying to make it out of a forest after accidentally severing his aorta with a chainsaw, the eternal enchantment of Naples.
The characters in this book like getting high and watching nature documentaries. Understandable. That’s classic stoner fare, for sure. But these folks appear to sense the same qualities in the exotic animals on their televisions as in the oddly harsh environment and people around them, a profound sense of otherness that both repulses and fascinates them. Meanwhile, the plot of the novel progresses, of course, to complications beyond just the death of family members. Like all good noir, there are crimes within crimes here. But what really makes the novel work, and what makes it worthy of our attention, is this central question of figuring out what is meaningful to us in such an amoral and capricious world. Weather, cars, fish, toy planes, elephants, pornography, weed, coffins, beetles, dreams, crosses — all threaten to weigh in with equally heavy importance, projecting a repetitive monotony of doom — a weird mandala of despair slowly rotating on the page. - Scott Beauchamp
To say that Carlos Busqued’s debut novel Under This Terrible Sun presents a bleak landscape is as misleading as it is true. It’s misleading because though the book contains its share of literal wastelands – desert highways, seemingly empty towns and isolated, rundown gas stations – they are just the thin outward layer of desolation that pervades the entire world the book portrays. Take what you see on face value and you’re liable to miss the novel’s chilling unity.The story begins with the entirely unheroic hero, Cetarti, needing to travel to the dingy northern Argentine town of Lapachito following the brutal murder of his mother and brother. The appearance of this forsaken place, whose streets are “neglected and covered with a thin layer of mud”, perfectly mirrors the inner and outer lives of all the characters that pass through it:
“Look at the houses: they’re all cracked. The ground is all mud now, they’re sinking. The cesspits are overflowing—a lot of this mud on the street is shit and piss. That’s why the trees have died, they all rotted the first year.”
Action is scarce, with practically just a single explosive exception of the blackest humor in the whole novel. There are plot lines, but those lines fade into obscurity and insignificance, with their origins generally left unclear. Cetarti agrees to participate in an insurance scam revolving around his mother’s death, there are kidnappings going on, an old family skeleton is dug up – literally. For the most part though, the characters drift through a fog of aimlessness, one made more dense by clouds of marijuana smoke. The bleakness and apathy of their lives remain unrelieved.
Yet Busqued’s most remarkable achievement is expressing all this desolation without the novel itself being bleak. You read about characters watching TV, smoking pot, wandering around, witnessing random disturbing incidents as if from behind a pane of glass or another world, yet there isn’t a single boring moment in the whole book. It’s a pleasure to enter into this warped universe and the stoned, passive amorality that runs through it blends seamlessly with its laconic narrative voice.
The bleak landscapes of Under This Terrible Sun aren’t a matter of setting. In this world it makes no sense to distinguish them from other kinds of landscapes, because there are no other kinds of landscapes here, and can’t be. When Duarte, the kidnapper, tells his sidekick Danielito that he should take some of the ransom money he’s saved up and go on a long vacation, the idea is beyond the young stoner’s comprehension:
“…Get yourself to Brazil. Set yourself up for a month in some swanky hotel, eating pineapple on the beach, girls sucking on your cock…”
Danielito liked the idea of eating pineapple; he imagined the fresh sweet juice flowing over his teeth as he bit into the yellow pulp. The rest of the things, it was like Duarte was reading him the headlines of a newspaper from another planet.
Pleasure, happiness, love, friendship, trust – none of these attributes exist in the Hell on earth this novel depicts, with its desert-like barrenness and earthly hopelessness making it a stand-in for the underworld. The only characteristic that occasionally shows flashes of itself through the wall of apathy and indifference is evil, most completely in the character of Duarte. Yet even this is typically only hinted at: in a kidnap victim’s screams when the former military man enters the room, and in the bruises and dripping bodily fluids on their bodies after he leaves them.
Busqued also very subtly links this simultaneously real and unreal moral vacuum to a very real and dark chapter in Argentina’s history by providing a brief glimpse of some of Duarte’s old photos from his days as a soldier:
They looked like photos for a record of facilities and equipment: jail cells, trucks, a meeting room. They were photos of rural operations, with most of the military men dressed as civilians. In the background of one, you could see a truck riddled with bullet holes. Between the mud flaps and the start of the bed, which was the portion he could see, Danielito counted nine large holes. His father was kneeling down with his right arm resting on his knee, holding his pistol (the same gun with which Danielito had recently killed the dogs) in his hand. There were three people lying down beside him, but their faces had been obscured with white correction fluid.
Under This Terrible Sun manages to deal with dark subject matter with a light, humorous touch at the same time that it casts a somber look at the trivial refuse of modern life, taking the reader on a literary joyride through Hell. – Michael Stein
Carlos Busqued’s Under This Terrible Sun is a dark and at times disturbing book that in its tight and economical prose wastes little time in showing men at their worst. The cruelty is elusive at first. The novel opens with a description from a Discovery Channel show of the cannibalistic tendencies of squid. It is the first of many such descriptions of elusive giant squids. While they seem extraneous to the story, just so much TV background noise, they set the tone for the novel, as the mystery and the ruthless violence have their parallel within the novel.
It is a violence that Cetarti, an Argentine stoner, who has lost his job and spends his time watching the Discovery Channel and smoking marijuana is oblivious to. Even when he is told that his mother and brother had been murdered by her new husband, he is emotionless, the violence of it, just something that happened, nothing more. If the killing wasn’t enough, when he arrives in the small town to meet with the lawyer who is going to settle the estate, he finds that the streets are filled with excrement that has bubbled up from the sewers. He has entered into a place that could be hardly anymore disgusting. It sets the tone for meeting with the lawyer, Duarte, whose only interest is getting a little money out of the death benefits that are due him. While Cetarti and Durate settle business, Durate also spends his time transferring porn from video to digital, and the titles are quite hard core. Cetarti, though, as he does when faced with any new situation, doesn’t seem to care one way or another. He is disgusted by the very graphic scene and Durate delights in showing him, but ultimately getting the money from the estate is all he cares about. Once he gets that he can go back to smoking and watching the Discovery Channel.
Running parallel to Cetarti’s story is that of Durate and Danielito. The two men are scheming to do something and Danielito always seems to be taking care of someone behind a locked door. It is not clear at first who that person is or what they are doing, but as the novel goes on and a woman is kept in the room Durate and Danielito’s intentions become darker and darker, showing that the hardcore porn is only the beginning of Durate’s depravity. Danielito, much like Cetarti, is emotionless and follows Durate’s orders without question. It is never quite clear what the two men are doing, but it is both horrific and yet pedestrian, as if the normal state of men is that of passionless brutes who only follow biological instincts.
The two men and the one who you might think would have something good in him, Cetarti, is too numb to do anything. He has surrendered to marijuana and television. Even when he moves into his brother’s house and begins to clean it, getting rid of all of the junk he had collected as a hoarder, he does it less as catharsis, but as a mechanical event. The contrast couldn’t be stronger between that of a hoarder who sees in everything a rational and Cetarti who can live in the most spartan setting just watching the world go by. It is how Cetarti can join Durate and Danielito as they perform some sort of crime with the woman they’ve been keeping in the room. Cetarti is so uninterested in what is going on other than getting a little extra money he doesn’t even bother thinking about what is happening. He’s there, they’re all there, they do what they are going to do and that is it. Even the writing underscores this passionless view, avoiding any kind of descriptions of emotions or morality, just sticking to a description of the physical events.
It is an approach that when mixed with the nature documentaries is a nihilistic view of men as little more than the predators they are. While it is certainly not the first novel to tackle the subject, Busqued has no interest in explaining why this is. Explanations are not going to help soften the violence. It is an approach that can make for some tough passages, but in general keeps the horrible at a distance, always threatening, but never certain. After reading it, the reader should not be surprised if they want more, but since they are only observers, the whys, those often novelistic easy answers, are never going to come in the form of easy answers. The lack of answers is what makes the book work and Busqued has avoided some of the cliches that afflict crime fiction. Assuming one can get past the descriptions of some of the porn, you’ll see a darker side of Argentina than I have in the recent past.
Well I decide to review some of the wonderful books from Frisch and co over the next few weeks .Frisch and co are an e-book only piublisher of translated fiction and now just before christmas seemed a great time with Tablets and eReaders being this years top gift for most people ,everyone will be waking up on Christmas day turning there eReader or tablets on and wanting to place some great books on so I will point you in Frisch and co way .This book by the Argentina writer Carlos Busqued ,is a Buenos Aires based writer this book was his debut novel and was listed for the Prix Herralde ,it won praise for its use of direct language that may be vile but takes you to the heart of the expression .
The phone rang. The caller ID said “unknown,” which meant a call from a public telephone. Or from a person who was deliberately hiding their number. He didn’t answer.
Who is the call from ?
Under this terrible sun although quite unique in the books from Argentina I have read can be said to be in a vein of books from there ,the Lit thriller / crime novel .The pacing of the writing is very much like a thriller and the style is more akin to a lit novel .The book centres on a son whose mother has died this son Cetarti ,is a bit of a loser , well he remind me of a character that had maybe be cut from the Coen brother film The big lebowski or a side figure in Pynchon inherent vice ,this guy lives in a world of weed and documentary tv ,especially programmes about Giant squid for some reason .So Cetarti heads north to the part of Argentina his mother whom he had lost real touch with when she lived .So he heads to the north of Argentina where he is meet by the Lawyer Durate that is dealing with his mother’s estate .This leads to a side story of this Lawyers sideline and the man that helps him with this sideline Daniello (Now I viewed this guy as rather like the northern Argentina version of Cetarti a laid back dud that tends to follow what he is told to do just for an easy life ) Well the sideline happens to be transferring porn from old videos to digital content .Well that is the story it develops as we see the vile nature of the porn the men deal in and the waiting for the estate to be settled and how ever there may be fraud involved.
He missed his car. At that moment, he would have liked to get on the highway with no specific plan. Cruise along the national highway system smoking the marijuana he had left, only stopping in service stations to fill up on gas, shower, and eat. He had a pleasant memory of the insects smashing against the windshield seconds after being illuminated by the car’s headlights. Sleep on the side of the road. Go with the flow. Smash into something on the road, in the final hours of an afternoon.
I choose this quote as it was highlighted by E J the publisher on the copy I read on Readermill .
Well this book owes as much to American lit as it does Argentinian lit .I was reminded of the later Pynchon book like inherent vice involves figures like this at the edge of life ,stoners ,chancers all feature in this book .I also felt the porn section remind me of films like 8mm, where we open the door on the extremes of human nature ,very hard to read and eye-opening but this world exists and we are shown how vile it can be by this book .It also had a lot of similar tones to other recent Argentinian books I ve read that I would say fit into this Lit crime/thriller genre from Argentina they would be My father ghost climbing in the rain by Patricio Pron a son returns and uncovers his fathers past ,rather like this a man arrives and finds out more than he expected ,then there is also Carlos Gamerro’s books both on this lit crime feel and both follow men discovering more than want .This book is about discovering the underbelly of Argentina post the dictators that have often fuel the lit of the region what happens when they are gone how do some people go on ?
Carlos Busqued's Under this Terrible Sun (translated by Megan McDowell, e-copy courtesy of the publisher) is a short, laconic and occasionally disturbing book. The story begins when Javier Cetarti, a man approaching middle age with little to show for it, gets a phone call from someone he's never met - unsurprisingly, the news the call brings is not great:
"Daniel Molina", retired petty officer of the air force and represented here by Mr. Duarte," had killed his lover and a son of hers at noon the previous day. That is, Cetarti's mother and brother"
(Frisch & Co., 2013)
Cetarti manages to get his act together and drives all day to get to the provincial town of Lapachito, where he meets the aforementioned Duarte, has his mother and brother cremated and goes along with Duarte's ruse to scam some insurance money.
On his return to Córdoba, Cetarti decides to quit his apartment and move into his brother's old place, a ramshackle house full of rubbish - and an axolotl salamander. As he settles into a life of smoking weed, eating pizza and watching the Discovery Channel, he slowly makes plans for heading off into the sunset. Little does he know though that Duarte is not who he seems - and that their fleeting meeting in Lapachito is to have far-reaching consequences...
Under this Terrible Sun is a book which starts off incredibly slowly (despite the dramatic phone call), and after a few of the many, fairly brief, chapters, I was starting to wonder if anything was going to happen. All of a sudden though, we get to see beneath the dull veneer, and it's fairly disturbing. The fact of the matter is that the air-force veteran Duarte is a nasty piece of work. Whatever you do, don't go down to the basement...
"Without untying him, he adjusted the boy until he was in a stable seated position"
This sentence appeared just as randomly and disturbingly in the book as it did in my post. It comes out of nowhere, and the reader suddenly suspects that the book is about to take a new direction.
Let's be blunt - Under this Terible Sun soon becomes a dark twisted story about some sad, nasty people. The initially affable Duarte is a criminal, sick and unforgiving, one with a penchant for model planes and vile pornography:
"There's some pornography you don't watch to jerk off, you watch it more out of curiosity about how far the human species will go."
Let's just say that he's not a very nice man... He is ably supported by Danielito, a big man addicted to junk food, marijuana and the Discovery Channel, one who is a side-kick to both Duarte and his own (rather strange) mother...
However, the central character of the novel, Cetarti, isn't much better. He's listless and drifting, spending his days smoking joints and avoiding anything which might lead to action. He's a man who really doesn't like to get involved - in anything:
"But getting out of the car, talking, making himself understood, paying etc., it all seemed like an unworkable task that broke down into an almost endless series of muscular contractions, small positional decisions, mental operations of word choice and response analysis that exhausted him in advance."
Danielito's father provides a connection with Cetarti, but the two men have more in common than their messy family ties. They're both losers with little going for them apart from a messy apartment, a bag of weed and an interest in TV documentaries. Sad men, with wasted lives.
A symbol for this sense of inertia is the pet Cetarti finds at his brother's house, an axolotl - a salamander which doesn't need to evolve or grow up. It lives at the bottom of its tank, stagnant, unmoving. It's a rather apt pet for the unevolved Cetarti...
Under this Terrible Sun is a short read, and interesting in parts, but it's not a book I loved. For me, it never really got going, and I was rarely sure where it was going (or why). Also, as alluded to above, it's another of those Latin American books with some very graphic scenes, which reminded me (in passing) of certain sections of Carlos Gamerro's The Islands. If you didn't like those (and those who have read Gamerro's book will know exactly what I mean), you may not like this...
While the book wasn't really one for me, I'm definitely still interested in the publisher. An all-electronic press, which is a fairly new concept, has the advantage of allowing Frisch & Co. to deal with other publishers and get books out quickly. With contacts to various big European presses, they should be able to bring out a few exciting books. I'll definitely be trying another one - hopefully, I'll enjoy the next one a little more ;)