Born in Cochabamba, Bolivia, in 1981, Rodrigo Hasbún has published two books of short stories, Cinco and Los días más felices, and a novel, El lugar del cuerpo. He was awarded the Latin Union Prize, and his stories have been adapted into the films Rojo and Los viejos, for which he co-wrote the screenplays. In 2010 he was selected as one of the Best of Young Spanish Language Novelists by Granta. He currently lives in Toronto, Canada.
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?
RODRIGO HASBÚN: The story came out of an image in which four fifty-something women were in a pool, surrounded by the jungle. What kind of a place was this, and why were they there? How come no one else was around? Was everything really as peaceful as it seemed? It was an image that led to endless questions, and from there I began writing the story. Something that interests me about crime stories is where they situate you as a reader, and the fact that they make you ask yourself questions constantly. I wanted to play with this: not with suspense, which interests me less, but rather with minor expectations. This might be untraditional, as far as the genre is concerned, but it was the lead-up to the crime that mattered to me more than the crime itself, or its resolution. In other words, I was more concerned with what came before the crime than with what came after.
McSWEENEY’S: We asked you for a story set in Bolivia. 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?
RODRIGO HASBÚN: I think there are certain stories that allow you to get closer to the secret dynamics of a country, to some of its fundamental tensions, but none of this is convincing if it’s not presented through the characters and what they experience. That tremendous lady Flannery has already told us: abstraction is more useful in sociology than in fiction. Bolivia is a country where racism, classism, and gender discrimination continue to thrive, and it was impossible to not have this in mind while writing the story, but only as background noise. In the foreground, there were always these four friends, upper-class women who were fighting with themselves and with the worlds that surrounded them during a weekend vacation in Chapare.
McSWEENEY’S: Is there a Bolivian author, or a particular Bolivian book, or even a movie or a TV show, that you think takes on the genre particularly well?
RODRIGO HASBÚN: There isn’t a strong tradition of crime fiction in Bolivia. It has been practiced very little here—so little that I can’t think of one writer or filmmaker who has dedicated themselves exclusively to it. What they have done, instead, is incorporate some of the genre’s elements and tensions into stories responding to different kinds of questions. In this sense, I find the last few novels by Edmundo Paz Soldán very interesting, particularly Norte, which has a serial killer as protagonist, perhaps the only serial killer in the history of Bolivian literature. Curiously—or not so curiously—the novel is set in the United States, and the protagonist is Mexican.
McSWEENEY’S: The crime in your story seems to come very late, in the wake of the main action, although other traumas occur earlier—how did you decide on that structure?
RODRIGO HASBÚN: I think that, ultimately, this is a story about memory, about how we exist in the memories of others and how others (the living and the dead) exist in ours. So the structure responds to this a little—this is the reason for the constant shifts in perspective and time, and it’s also reflected in how the action is organized. At one point I tried to set up the story differently: for example, I tried moving the crime to the beginning. But aside from the fact that none of this worked, what I mentioned earlier happened: I realized that, at least for me, the lead-up to the crime was more important than the crime itself.
McSWEENEY’S: Your title, “So Much Water So Far from Home,” echoes the title of a story by Raymond Carver (“So Much Water So Close to Home”) that offers an uneasy account of an unsolved killing. How much were you thinking about that piece, while you were working on this one?
RODRIGO HASBÚN: “So Much Water So Close to Home” is one of my favorite stories, and to read both versions—the one that originally appeared in What We Talk About When We Talk About Love and then the one that Carver rewrote years later for his Selected Stories—is an extraordinary experience. There, in the shift between the two versions, you see a great writer in action, reformulating an anecdotal story (four friends go fishing and find a murdered woman in the lake) into something infinitely greater: a brutal exploration of the vulnerability of women in a world that is still governed by masculine imperatives. I wanted to take up this vulnerability in a different context, while producing something of an homage to Carver. Unlike him, I left the men at home.