Andrés Ressia Colino is the author of the novels Palcante and Parir, which were honored by the Uruguayan Ministry of Culture and the Culture Department of the Government of Montevideo, respectively. In 2010 he was selected as one of The Best of Young Spanish Language Novelists by Granta. He lives in Montevideo.
McSWEENEY’S: So how did you approach the idea of writing a crime story? Did you start with a character, or a particular situation, or something else?
ANDRÉS RESSIA COLINO: The starting point for this story was a real assassination. It caught my attention, in particular, because of the conduct of the murderer and its location. That being said, the story is very different from the events that inspired it.
McSWEENEY’S: We asked you for a story set in Uruguay. How much did you think about that, as you were working on this? Do you think a story like this can tell us something about a particular place, or a particular country?
ANDRÉS RESSIA COLINO: Obviously, the types of crimes that are committed in a society and the ways in which those crimes are resolved say a lot about that society. Or, at least, about a good percentage of the people in it. I wasn’t thinking, particularly, about linking this story with a commentary on Uruguay, but, because I based the story on real events, I did end up speaking about the country to a certain extent.
The particular location I chose pushed me a lot, I think. Many of the shadier aspects of Uruguay can be found in Punta del Este and its environs, where this story is set. If I had overlooked these qualities, the narration would have turned into something unreal, something like a tourism brochure.
McSWEENEY’S: Is there an Uruguayan author, or a particular Uruguayan book, or even a movie or a TV show, that you think takes on the genre particularly well?
ANDRÉS RESSIA COLINO: Strictly speaking, crime fiction is not that well represented in Uruguay, but there are some crime fiction writers emerging right now. This certainly has to do with the fact that the police here were, for twenty-five years, an arm of power that practiced intimidation, persecution, and torture against regular citizens, instead of fulfilling the roles one might normally associate with them. Law enforcement in Uruguay was very corrupt, and intimately linked to organized crime, until the beginning of this century.
To give an example that might be instructive for a North American reader: in 1970, an FBI agent assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Montevideo, Dan Mitrione, was assassinated by a Tupamaro commando. Mitrione had been training our security forces to use electroshock against their prisoners. And even later, at the end of the ’80s, under a democratic system like the one we have today, the police indiscriminately detained many young people through a process they called razzia.
With this in mind, it’s clear why few writers attempted to tell stories according to the codes of North American and European crime fiction. The relationships of power here are fundamentally different.
McSWEENEY’S: Your story is one of the darkest pieces in the issue—everyone in it seems implicated, in some way. Can you talk about how you decided on that atmosphere?
ANDRÉS RESSIA COLINO: What interested me about the case that inspired this story was the way in which the criminals’ accomplices managed to cover it up, both during the investigation and even after the conviction. Additionally, the homicide committed was a case of extreme violence, a class of aggression that endures here thanks to the complicit silence of witnesses. How does violence like that metabolize inside a group, so that, eventually, everyone begins to accept it? That was one of the points I wanted to explore. Evidently, no one can be innocent.
McSWEENEY’S: Your narrator is an observer, someone who can’t look away from the grotesque aspects of Punta del Este, which he calls “New Ciudad Júarez,” even as he’s repulsed by them. He’s also a fatalist, who’s thrown off when his companions take up a kind of vigilantism. Do you think his stance toward that world is a common one, around there?
ANDRÉS RESSIA COLINO: Uruguayan society is small, conservative, and fragmented into groups and classes that are not very permeable. It’s very difficult to escape the place where you grew up. I don’t think my character’s perspective is the most common one, but I think it’s more prevalent among those in that world than most would admit.