For those not familiar with the whimsical brilliance of McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, these National Magazine Award-winning publications are the Lady Gaga meat-dress version of a literary magazine--all attitude and sass and weirdness. No two issues are remotely alike. Some are hardcover, some paperback, some are multiple booklets inside a decorative case, or a cigar box, or wrapped in faux leather, or rubber bands. Others feature letters, drawings, postcards, posters, magnets. Over the years, they've hosted the work of Jonathan Franzen, William T. Vollmann, Joyce Carol Oates, Michael Chabon, Ben Marcus, Roddy Doyle, T. C. Boyle, Steven Millhauser, Ann Beattie, and many more. Collectable and very cool.
The latest issue, McSweeney's Issue #46, is devoted entirely to Latin American crime writers. Its thirteen stories were written by some of the best crime writers of Columbia, Argentina, Cuba, Venezuala, and more. Dark, intense, disturbing, hillarious, these pieces feature a cross section of Latin American life and culture, with characters ranging from a Polish insurance broker in a SÃ£o Paulo favela to a Cuban transsexual named Amy Winehouse.
The following excerpt is from a story entitled "The Face," by Santiago Roncagliolo, translated by Natasha Wimmer. (Back issues can be found here.)
"Is it her or isn't it?"
"I don't know, sir. It could be anybody."
Assistant Prosecutor FÃ©lix Chacaltana frowned. Over the course of his career, he had come across all kinds of bodies: familiar and unfamiliar, many of them undocumented, some of them in an advanced state of decomposition. Sometimes they were missing bits, nothing big, fingers and such. Occasionally something had been stuffed into the mouth, or another orifice. Regulations required that every body be identified with the help of a relative or friend of the victim. But in order to be recognized, a body had to have a face. And this one didn't.
"I hope it's not," said Officer Basurto, shaking his head with concern. "She was a fine singer, sir."
"'Is,' officer. Make that present tense. Until the death is certified in writing, the lady is officially alive."
"Then who's this?"
The assistant prosecutor shrugged. There was no room to stand up inside the trailer; the two officials were sitting across from the dead body, around a little camp table, like a couple of day trippers. They took another look at the bloody mess, the shapeless muddle of hair, skin, and bones. A few hours ago, that red blob had been a face.
"What was she hit with?" asked the cop. "A stone?"
"I don't think so. A stone is hard to handle. And the victim would have tried to defend herself. To do this right, you need a hammer."
Chacaltana imagined the claw end of the hammer sinking into flesh, puncturing an eyeball, smashing bones in the skull. But his mind returned rapidly to his main problem: the proper procedure for identifying the body. He couldn't remember any item in the regulations for cases like this. And if the body wasn't identified, he wouldn't be able to complete the appropriate forms. He hated to leave administrative procedures half finished.
"Maybe there's an ID in one of her pockets?" he asked.
"Pues, that outfit doesn't have pockets, sir," said Basurto with a laugh. He didn't know a thing about procedures, but he was clearly an authority on folkloric attire.
Assistant Prosecutor Chacaltana contemplated the victim's majestic outfit: the pink-and-green-flowered bodice, the full skirt, the yellow kerchief fastened at the shoulders. The murderer had taken the trouble to set her Andean hat on her head after he'd killed her. Bashed-in face aside, she looked very presentable.
"People need to carry their IDs," scolded the assistant prosecutor. "I always have mine with me, to make things easier for the authorities in case I'm the victim of a homicide. Premeditated or not."
"Mm," agreed the officer, and the two were silent for a minute, looking out the window at the concert grounds littered with empty bottles and cigarette butts. In the distance the stage was still standing, but it looked naked without lights, musicians, or instruments. The assistant prosecutor was reminded of something.
"Women hide things beneath their clothing sometimes. What if that's where she kept her ID?"
"Why don't you take a look?"
"That's right. You're a cop, aren't you?"
"Petty officer third-class, sir."
"All right, then. Look and see."
"You want me to feel up a dead woman?"
The two of them turned toward the subject in question, as if she had overheard them making unsavory remarks. She had a serene look about her, and the assistant prosecutor was on the verge of offering her an apology. "I want you to do your duty," he muttered.
"Sir, with all due respect to you as a professional and a human being, allow me to remind you that the deceased individual here present, as well as bearing a physical resemblance to SeÃ±ora Casilda MartÃnez Vilcas, is also wearing SeÃ±ora Casilda MartÃnez Vilcas's clothes, and was found in SeÃ±ora Casilda MartÃnez Vilcas's trailer, three hundred yards from where SeÃ±ora Casilda MartÃnez Vilcas gave a concert last night. Can't we deduce that she is therefore SeÃ±ora Casilda MartÃnez Vilcas?"
"It's your job to investigate, not deduce, officer. What if the killer wants to confuse us? What if SeÃ±ora MartÃnez Vilcas is alive?"
"I hope she is, sir. She was a good woman. And a fine singer."
"'Is,' Petty Officer. And now search her."
Basurto resigned himself to the task. He tried not to look the deceased in the eyes, or rather in the place where her eyes had been, and slid his hands slowly down her wide gauzy sleeves into her bodice. He rummaged around in there for quite a while, testing the ramparts, and then he exclaimed:
Withdrawing his hands, he turned to Assistant Prosecutor Chacaltana with triumph in his eyes.
"Look, sir: a hundred-sol note. Now we can get ourselves some lunch."