Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Reading 2666 by Robert Bolaño – Week 11

And so we come to the end of The Part About the Crimes in the Group Read of Robert Bolaño’s 2666.  Only one part and four more weeks to go.

Here are my thoughts:

1.  This Part, which started as a slow, deliberate, chronological description of the murders of women in Santa Teresa ended in a cacophony.  That’s the only way I can describe it.  By the end of this part Bolaño was telling multiple stories all at the same time.  But like a the bass line below a frenzy of notes on the treble cleff,  the slow chronological telling of the murders of the unknown women continued.  And when the cacophony was finished we were left with a silence that didn’t bring any peace.

2.  As I said last week, this part gives a false sense of narrative flow in the sense that it feels like it is going somewhere and yet the reader can be fairly sure that it is going nowhere.  And the cacophony at the end enhanced this feeling that we were building up to … something.  And yet … nothing happened.

3.  The key character in this part is the reporter from Mexico, Sergio Gonzales who, against his better judgment, is looking into the murders.  In The Part About Fate, the female reporter from Mexico City tells Fate that the previous reporter working on this was killed and the reporter before that disappeared.  The killed reporter must be Sergio.  During the course of this part he discovers that a previous reporter who was covering the story has disappeared.  Sergio is, however, alive and well at the end of this Part.

4.  The drug trade and its possible connection (or maybe not) with the murders is finally introduced.  (I was wondering about that last week.) It is hard to believe that the cover up has nothing to do with the drug trade even if the serial killer isn’t a drug lord.

5.  Bolaño finally introduces a woman character that I felt was real.  Azucena Esquival Plata, “reporter and Congresswoman”.   Not that she seemed any more real than any of the other characters.  I mean, who says things like “At nineteen I began to take lovers.  My sex life is legendary all over Mexico …”?  Do people talk like that in real life?   And who talks incessantly, almost without interruption, for pages and pages and pages?  No one.  But that’s how all the people in this novel talk.  Bolaño doesn’t write realistic dialog for any of his characters so that wasn’t an issue for me.  The reason this female character seems real, I think, is because there really isn’t anything feminine about her, she’s a powerful woman, almost masculine in her power.  Truthfully, in reading her story, it wouldn’t have had to be changed much to come out of the mouth of a man.  So  Bolaño avoids the whole “writing woman” problem by writing her like a man.   But she at least seemed as real as the other male characters.   She tells Sergio the story of her friend Kelly who, it turns out, was providing women for drug trade parties near Santa Teresa and who has now disappeared.  She implores Sergio to investigate. That’s probably why Sergio is now dead.

6.  Haas continues to be intriguing.  He calls a press conference, against the wishes of his lawyer (another woman character who I don’t understand), to announce that he didn’t commit the crimes and to name the persons responsible, the identity of whom he claims to have learned in prison.   Are these the real killers?  Who knows.  We don’t find out, but reporters do start tracking them down. 

7.  There is also, simultaneously, the story of the visiting ex-FBI agent who comes to give a lecture and look into the murders.  His story is part of the cacophony but it goes nowhere.

8.  All in all, I liked the Part About the Crimes the best of all the parts so far.  In fact, I would say that I’ve liked each Part a little bit better than the Part before, but we took a giant leap forward with this Part. I understand that others who have read or who are reading this novel find it hard to make it through this nonstop litany of murder, but I didn’t t see much difference between reading it and watching all three CSI shows week after week. As I’ve said before I thought it was the easiest part to read and it is the only part so far that had any narrative force for me.   On the other hand we didn’t learn much from it.   The murders started being noticed in the early 1990’s and by the end of the 1990s the numbers have reached incredible proportions.  The police investigate but because of ineptness (willful or otherwise) they don’t even have a composite portrait of the serial killer.  Haas is in jail for the crimes but since the crimes continued after his imprisonment he cannot be the killer or, at least, not the only killer.  Anyone who asks too many questions gets killed.  The crimes are taken seriously only by a few people, mostly women like the Congresswoman and the television psychic Florita (another odd woman character)  But even without the crimes, the atmosphere of Santa Teresa is poisonous for women.

And so we move on to the last Part which is called The Part About Archimboldi.  I doubt we’re going to see him “solve” the crimes so the question continues to be “where is this novel going”?  

I remain ambivalent about this novel.  I continue to not find it at all difficult to read my 50 pages a week and I never dread picking it up.  On the other hand I can’t think of a soul that I would recommend this novel to.  And recently when I’ve been at parties and have been asked what I’ve been reading, I’ve had the hardest time making this novel sound at all palatable.  It does not make me want to read another Robert Bolaño novel.  But I don’t feel my time has been wasted.   The biggest failure I think has been that I’ve had no real desire to discuss it with anyone, not even anyone doing the group read. 

But maybe my whole attitude will change in the next Part.