January 10, 2017
On sale now: Glaxo by Hernán Ronsino
by Melville House
This week, we’re excited to be publishing Glaxo, the first book to appear in English from Argentina’s Hernán Ronsino. Set over a quarter century in the Argentine pampa, it’s a story of crime, corruption, and violence; of friendship, family, and sex; of four friends, separated and connected by fate, a shared hometown, and a chilling murder.
It’s already being called “enthralling” and one of the most anticipated books of the year.
And it’s out today! Here are a few brief, opening chapters to nose through as you wait to buy your copy.
One day the trains stop coming. Then a work team arrives. Six or seven men get out of a truck. They wear yellow helmets. They begin pulling up the tracks. I watch them from here. I watch them work. They work until six. They leave before the workers from the Glaxo factory punch out. They leave behind a few metal drums with burning rubbish, to block off traffic. When they leave, I close the barbershop.
That’s when I begin to dream about trains. About trains that run off the tracks. They sway from side to side before they fall. They destroy the tracks. Sparks fly. And then comes that noise, so shrill, just before they halt. So shrill it hurts your teeth. It moves you. Like when my razor blade scrapes over the back of the neck, and heads shudder, shoulders shudder, and it doesn’t matter if it’s Bicho Souza or old man Berman, their shoulders shake like the carriage of a train running off the tracks. A shiver, they call it. Then there’s a warmth, on the back of the neck. And the itch of the powdered brush, sweeping the neck.
And then a primitive calm.
Now it’s a warm afternoon, a Saturday. That’s why nobody’s working over there. Just the blackened metal drums, burning with fires that never before seemed to exist by day, with the fires burning that don’t seem to be there during the day. My father and I drink yerba maté. The municipal ambulance speeds around the corner where Souza’s butcher shop stands, and stops opposite the Barrios’ house. With the maté in my hand, I watch from behind the door. Two doctors get out. One of them goes into the house, and Miguelito’s mother greets him. The other takes out the stretcher and pushes it into the house. My father is bent over in the corner, distant and old, worn down like a bone that has been picked over. Hurry up with the maté, he says. A few minutes later the men come out, bearing the stretcher. Miguelito’s mother has a fit of crying. Juan Moyano envelops her in an embrace. Once again, Miguelito Barrios is in the ambulance, on his way to the hospital.
This is the second time it has rained since the work team has been pulling up the train tracks. Now, they say, the train takes another branch line after Gorostiaga and passes by Sud, the station where before only freight trains passed through on their way from La Pampa. Endless trains. Loaded with wheat. It’s the second time it has rained since the work team has been pulling up the tracks. The municipal trucks plough through the mud and are loaded with sleepers. Then they drive off, leaving behind furrows that the kids kick at as soon as they’ve dried, as if they were the walls of an abandoned house. But the problem is that the mud gets in everywhere. The watered-down muck sticks to everything. It covers women’s shoes, the bicycles belonging to the workers at the Glaxo factory, the boots of the men who come into the barbershop and mess up the floor — despite my putting down newspaper to avoid such a disaster. It gets dragged in on the soles of shoes that sit on the footrest of the main chair, the reclining chair.
My father sweeps up the hair on the ground around the main chair, the reclining chair, painted sky blue. Three haircuts so far today. Hair from Tito Krause, Luis Aragón, and a boy who lives behind the silos piles up and melds together while my father sweeps and drags it across the mosaic tiles of black granite. It becomes a confused pile of chestnut brown and blond, mixed in with the dried mud that persists in appearing. Outside, in a clearing in the cane field, one of the men from the work team prepares a barbecue. When my father opens the door, when he goes out, bent over and slow, a broom in his hand to sweep the well-trodden path of hard, dry earth, the smell of grilling meat enters the barbershop, coming from over in the clearing of the cane field, and awakens in me a decrepit, sharp anguish. So I go out. The firm midday sun is dazzling. The summer air is ripening. I lean one arm against the door- frame. My father sweeps, with difficulty. The rest of the work team rests beneath the shade of the chinaberry trees, where there used to be a bar called the Ace of Spades. They sit on the ground, their backs against the wall, their crossed legs stretching over the brick pavement.
Then later, Lucio Montes, leaning back slightly in the main chair, talks about the fight last Sunday night, at the Bermejo Club. He talks about a guy from Mechita, a real killer, who fought Lavi, this guy Lavi from the area around Federación, and he tells me that on that night, he, Montes, didn’t want to put on a bet, that he didn’t go for it because he’s a wimp, even though he thought he had a sure thing, and that Lavi the Kid knocked out the big guy from Mechita with one hit. Then, while Montes talks and I work, in silence, trimming the tips of his greasy hair, outside, on Souza’s corner, we can see Miguelito Barrios again, holding himself up on their unfinished wall, walking with difficulty, pallid and thin just like my father. I stop, I suspend the movement of my scissors. Montes takes no notice, he keeps on talking, he says that even if Lavi looked a sorry sight, he knew, says Montes, that Lavi would knock out that big guy. He begins to angle for my attention only now, after I’ve spent a long while without moving the scissors through his hair. Montes watches me watching Miguelito Barrios, who now goes into Souza’s butcher shop. So he’s back, I say with surprise. Yes, apparently there’s no cure, murmurs Montes, in a different tone, as if in fear. And then he sighs and forgets, just for a moment, about Lavi the Kid and all that business about the fight in the Bermejo Club.
I pull down the shutters. The sound echoes through the houses. The metal drums, blackened, light up the piles of sleepers that will be loaded, sometime later, into the trucks from the municipal council. Crickets thrill amongst the weeds. The night advances without mercy across the countryside. It seems to enclose us. I put the padlock in place and turn the key, twice. I pull at it, before I go, to make sure it’s firmly locked. I stick close to the walls, onto which the sun has beaten all afternoon, and I can still feel the heat seeping out of the bricks as I walk the twenty-metre distance home. I open the door and go in. I’m met with the sweet smell of fried onion and dull lighting. I take off the white apron I work in. (The white apron is part of my skin, I think.) My father is grating cheese onto the table. Miss Marta is in the kitchen, her back to me, stirring a bubbling saucepan. She would have put the pasta on the minute she heard the sound of the shutters. I go into the bathroom. I piss. The hard, white laundry soap darkens slightly as I scrub my hands, until the water cleans it, but still leaves behind a grey stain, like a gummy film. We sit at the table. Miss Marta tells my father not to eat any more cheese, in a scolding tone. Miss Marta serves us. I open a bottle of red wine. My father holds out his glass. Don’t overdo it, says Miss Marta. I pour a glass for my father, who already has a plate of pasta in front of him. Columns of steam rise up hurriedly and fog over his glasses. How many, asks my father, while he stirs through the pasta with his fork. Six, in total, I answer, as I pull off a chunk of bread. We eat in silence.
Glaxo is on sale now. Buy your copy here or at your neighborhood independent bookstore.