Mariana Enriquez was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1973. She has a degree in journalism and social communication from the Universidad Nacional de La Plata, and she is the editor of Radar, the arts and culture supplement for Pagina/12. She has published two novels, Bajar es lo peor and Cómo desaparecer completamente, as well as a collection of short stories, Los peligros de fumar en la cama, a novella, Chicos que vuelven, and a collection of travel narratives.
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? Did you think about it differently than you would another sort of story?
ENRIQUEZ: I don’t usually write crime stories—but I write dark fiction, so my stories sometimes involve crime. I guess I started from a very obvious point: the crime itself. The crime in my story is inspired partially by a crime that really happened about five years ago, in the province of Corrientes. The dead boy, in that case, was named Ramoncito, and he lived on the street. It was a crime that didn’t get much media attention—not as much as it deserved, at least—given the political implications it had and the horrific details that emerged. It was strange—it seemed like some kind of secret murder. There’s a true-crime investigation book about it called La misa del diablo (The Devil’s Mass, by Miguel Prenz) that wasn’t commercially successful, although it’s very good. I got the basic information for my story’s crime from there. And then I just let everything expand and grow, like I do with all my stories. I decided it wasn’t going to be as plot-driven as other works of crime fiction. Instead, I went for a weird, almost hallucinatory feel.
McSWEENEY’S: We asked you for a story set in Argentina. 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?
ENRIQUEZ: In general, I think crime stories are a form of social commentary—what progressive, political literature used to be. I (almost) always write about Argentina. It had a big effect on this story, I think. I wanted to put together two Argentinas: the very urban, cosmopolitan sector of Buenos Aires, and the part of the city that is influenced by the rural, northern provinces. They maintain a certain religiosity there, and believe in certain mythologies that, via migration, pour out into the capital.
McSWEENEY’S: Is there an Argentine author, or a particular Argentine book, or even a movie or a TV show, that you think takes on the genre particularly well?
ENRIQUEZ: Guillermo Saccomanno, a writer now in his mid-sixties, wrote a notable crime novel called Camara Gessell. Also the nonfiction writer Cristian Alarcón, who specializes in stories of teenage crime, villas (shantytowns), and small-time “narcos.” It’s journalism, but told with the pace and richness of fiction. But my favorite crime book is the novel The Buenos Aires Affair (1975), by Manuel Puig (author of Kiss of the Spiderwoman). It’s a masterpiece. As happens so often in Latin America, a private crime becomes political. The body of one person becomes the body of the nation, so to speak. Many have tried to do what Puig does so beautifully and effortlessly in that book.
McSWEENEY’S: Your story takes place in the Constitución neighborhood of Buenos Aires. What drew you to it, as a setting?
ENRIQUEZ: I work in that neighborhood. I work at a newspaper, and the office is there, right in the heart of Constitución. The neighborhood is just as it is in the story: beautiful, decadent, but very dangerous. I’ve gone there every day since 2003, and I know it quite well now. It’s a place that says a lot about the rich and powerful of Argentina: it was abandoned in the nineteenth century, after a huge yellow-fever outbreak. People just left their houses—some of them more like palaces than houses—because they could afford to buy new, equally grandiose ones far away from the outbreak. They never came back, and they left this part of the city, the south, for the poor, the marginalized, the workers, and the sick. (Many of the big public hospitals are in this area, notably the main Children’s Hospital that probably influenced my inclusion of children in the story.) The south has improved a lot recently, but compared to the north of the city—which is insanely rich—it’s still very far behind. I love the south of Buenos Aires. I think it has personality and edge and class. And it’s only dangerous by the standards of Buenos Aires, which are quite low.
McSWEENEY’S: The backdrop of your piece involves another Argentinian outlaw story—the story of Gauchito Gil. Do you remember when you first heard the Gauchito legend? What made you decide to integrate it, here?
ENRIQUEZ: I’d heard of him growing up. Part of my family is from Corrientes, the province where Gauchito Gil is from. I decided to include his story because, throughout the last two decades, the Gauchito has been a big part of Buenos Aires: his colors and his effigy are everywhere. The migrants that I mentioned earlier are the ones who brought his story to the city, and it became very popular. People have him tattooed on their bodies and painted on their walls; there are altars on street corners. It’s just part of the landscape. But it’s also a dark, violent mythology—a myth of abuse of power and mutilation. Gauchos were poor: they lived on the margins of society, and they were dispossessed. Gauchito Gil is a saint of the dispossessed. And in neighborhoods like Constitución, he is something of a patron.