The OF Blog: Carlos Droguett, Todas esas muertes

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Carlos Droguett, Todas esas muertes

There's something about murderers that fascinates us.  Perhaps it is that question of motivation, of what drives people to end another's life.  Maybe it is a matter of a perceived compelling life story, as if that killer were just a product of his or her surroundings.  Or possibly it is as simple as a human drama enacted in real time, with real characters, affecting the real world around us.

Whatever the reasons, the pathology of murderers, especially serial or mass murderers, has long been a staple of Western literature and cinema.  Whether it is Norman Mailer's chilling portrayal of Gary Gilmore and his decision to drop all of his death penalty appeals or if it is Bret Easton Ellis's fictional Patrick Bateman in American Psycho, these killers, real and fictional alike, immediately grab readers' attentions.  In Chilean writer Carlos Droguett's 1971 Premio Alfaguara-winning novel, Todas esas muertes (All Those Deaths), he takes as his protagonist the turn of the 20th century killer Emilio Dubois, developing connections between this real-life killer and contemporary literature.

Droguett's Dubois is as much an artist (not frustrated, mind you) as a killer.  Throughout the novel, in both dialogue and extended third-person PoV examinations of his actions, Dubois is presented as a sort of a hybrid between a Jesse James (or at least the semi-mythological version of him that I encountered growing up in Middle Tennessee near one of the places he used to live after the Civil War) and a stand-in for art itself.  This Dubois is most certainly a killer, but he has his reasons.  The victims here are not entirely innocent and Droguett makes a provocative case for them "needing killing" in a few cases.  Take for instance this justification a little over halfway into the novel:

Lo mató, es verdad, pero el asesino, ese asesino, tiene las manos limpias, más limpias que los políticos y los verdaderos carniceros, esos que acechan a sus víctimas y las rajan a traición para devorarlas, alimentándose de muerte, incorporando esa muerte a su sistema moral, a su organización política, nutriendo sus comercios, sus industrias, sus billetes, lactando a sus hijos con esa muerte, con esos millones de muertes que en cuotas regulares y medidas son depositadas en la mesa del juez y del verdugo, justo antes de que se reabra la audiencia donde ellos van a condenar y cazar a un pobre tipo solitario que despanzurró a su tirano o a su amante. (p. 206)
Droguett uses lush, ornate sentences to establish the mood throughout the novel.  Here, he argues that Dubois has clean hands, cleaner than the politicians and the "true butchers" who betray the trust of their constituents before devouring them, aiding their deaths, even incorporating those deaths into their moral systems, their businesses, their ways of life.  It is a caustic commentary on capitalist life and in some senses, Droguett's Dubois is a rejection of this.  While Droguett does not go so far as to make a firm comparison of Dubois to Robin Hood or other legendary and/or real-life robber-heroes, he certainly works in enough ambiguity into Dubois' character as to make him at least sympathetic to the reader.

If there is a major weakness to Todas esas muertes, it may be that Droguett sometimes gets lost in his attempts to create parallels between Dubois' life and art.  At times, the narrative bogs down in asides and this weakens the flow of the narrative.  Despite this, his characterization of Dubois makes for a fascinating read, one that holds up 43 years after its initial 1971 publication. 


Haralambi Markov said...

I wish he were translated. This sounds interesting. Of course, I had to run the snippet through Google translate, which botched the language in amazing ways, but still adore what he's done.

Larry Nolen said...

Sorry about being a bit pressed for time to do more than just paraphrase what I quoted in Spanish. And unfortunately for some, I'm planning on reviewing a few more interesting Spanish-language novels this month and next.

Haralambi Markov said...

Nah, that's totally fine. I still got a catch of its beauty even through the mangled translation in Translate. I'm looking for the other books. Larry get them traaaanslated! :D

Larry Nolen said...

Ha! Some of them will have already been translated, but I don't read Premio Alfaguara winners in English, so... :P

Latest, however, is in English and I think the next one will be in English translation. Day 4 of 40 in 40 and already I can feel the pressure to write more and quicker.

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