Sunday, March 7, 2010

Reading 2666 by Robert Bolaño – Week Seven

This week in the online read of 2666 we reached The Part About the Crimes and read the first 50ish pages.

I admit that I was not looking forward to this.  There was so much foreshadowing in the first three parts of the novel that I thought we would be seeing graphic details of the dead women.   It was like watching a movie with lots of atmospheric music; I just knew something was coming.  I usually put my hands over my eyes in those kinds of movies and watch through my fingers.  So I expected to be reading this section that way. 

I also didn’t go into this section with much momentum.  This novel just doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.  So the idea of reading graphic violence in pursuit of … nothing?   Didn’t appeal to me.

The first 50 pages wasn’t so bad.  It kept my interest.

A few thoughts.

1.  This section of reading takes place almost completely in 1993 and is a chronological description of all the crimes that took place that year, or at least of the murders of women and the desecration of churches that Bolaño is concerned with.  As we moved to the end of this section of reading the year turns to 1994 and it looks like Bolaño intends to go through the same chronological summary for that year.  That could get old.  On the other hand I don’t think it is possible for him to take it all the way to the “present” in the novel.  The Part About the Crimes is a long part (about 200 pages) but if Bolaño spent 50 pages on each year there wouldn’t be enough pages, so at some point this method will have to end.   (I should say that I’m not sure when the “present” is in this novel.  The Part About Amalfitano seemed to take place before the critics from The Part About the Critics came to Mexico but it isn’t clear if Fate took Rosa away before or after or during the trip by the critics.  This is like one of those movies where time is all mixed up because there are flash forwards and flash backs. )

2.  I realized a few pages into this section that The Part About Fate didn’t involve an insane asylum and, so far, is the only part that doesn't.  The prison at the end of The Part About Fate had a bit of a feel of an insane asylum but it wasn’t really an insane asylum.  In this, The Part About the Crimes, we were introduced to a Mexican insane asylum.  The detective investigating the church desecrations  checks out the local asylum while looking for the desecrator and later starts a relationship with the female doctor who is the head of the asylum.  So far no poets or artists have been identified as being in the asylum. 

3.  Unlike the earlier sections, which seemed a little wordy to me, a great deal of this section is written in a spare style.  Bolaño writes a little section, no more than a few paragraphs, about the death of each woman, beginning in spring of 1993 when the first woman is found (although as he points out, she is simply the first woman who is counted).   The sections read a bit like police reports with a little more detail thrown in.   Very unemotional in style.   I should also point out that this is a list of ALL women murdered, even those whose crimes were solved or who don’t necessarily fit the pattern that is evolving (generally the guilty party is a boyfriend, but in one case the son).

4.  The dead women are not the only crimes Bolaño writes about in this section.  He also writes about a person (later nicknamed The Penitent) who is vandalizing churches including spreading his urine (or maybe not his, since there is so much of it) everywhere and harming anyone who interferes with him.  These sections are not written in the police blotter style but more in the style of the other parts of the novel.  However, since it is told from the point of view of the policeman investigating the incidents it still has a slightly more spare style.

5.   I think this slight difference in styles when discussing the two types of crimes is effective.  The church crimes were getting a lot of attention and were reported in the papers, the murders of the women weren’t.  On the other hand I am, at this point, not willing to place blame on anyone for not giving the women’s murders more attention.   A murder is a terrible thing but it generally affects only the murdered person and her family and friends.  That’s why many of us constantly complain when our local television newscast always opens up with the latest murder.  Yes, it is news.  But does it have to be treated with banner headlines by being the top news story?   No.  Unless it is a serial killer and it takes a while to figure out you’ve got a serial killer.   So, so far, I don’t blame the fictional Mexican press for not making a bigger deal out of this when it first started.

6.  In the midst of all of this, there is a diversion.  The police chief travels to a small village to pick a young man to be a new bodyguard for someone’s wife.   (This doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the murdered women since the whole family has bodyguards, the father, the mother and the kids, and no one has connected the murders of the women yet.)   On the way back from the small village their car hits and kills a coyote.  The police chief and his assistant. dream odd dreams that night.  The boy doesn’t.    Here the style is back to the old Bolaño – the Bolaño I was not missing in this section.   The boy’s name is Lalo and while he is serving as a bodyguard in training for the rich man’s wife, two hit men try to kill her.  The other two official bodyguards run off but Lalo saves her life.  His mentor, the police chief, then has him join the police squad.

7.  Towards the end of this reading, a murder of a woman and the vandalization of the churches comes together when a son murders his mother and then confesses to being The Penitent.  He is incarcerated.  The investigating detective doesn’t believe he is The Penitent.

8.   I’ve read that other people could not make it through this part.  So far, I’m finding it easier than the other parts.   The lack of “atmosphere” is refreshing.   The fact that actual things (even bad things) are happening to people is refreshing.

In opening this novel the other day I realized that the epigram is a quote from Baudelaire:  “An oasis of horror in a desert of boredom.”   I’m thinking I should have paid attention to that when I started.