2666 by Roberto Bolano (Part 3)

This post is the second in a series analyzing 2666 from a writer’s perspective. Visit the first post for a more general introduction to the novel.

Each book in 2666 reads like an exercise in genre writing. From the wry, understated academic quest of Part One (The Part About the Critics), to the erratic, stream-of-consciousness prose in Part Two (The Part About Amalfitano), and the blunt, unflinching reportage in Part Four (The Part About the Crimes).

In the third book, The Part About Fate, Bolaño uses a clipped, objective, fast-paced style familiar to readers of mysteries and detective novels in the vein of Raymond Chandler. But every so often, Bolaño deftly injects his prose with short flourishes of subjective lyricism to create impact and suspense, as we see in the following turning points in the story of Oscar Fate, a small-time reporter for a Harlem magazine who travels to Santa Teresa, Mexico to cover a boxing match, and winds up directly embroiled in the city’s evil.

Fate may not be a detective per se, but his investigative reporting lends the book a similar ambiance with regards to the mysteries of Santa Teresa’s murders. For the majority of The Part About Fate, Bolaño’s writing is frank and minimalistic. Like The Big Sleep or The Long Goodbye, sentences are short and sweet, describing one idea and one image at a time. The paragraphs slip by quickly as water, without any obstacles. Even the most traditionally climactic events are minimized to a few short, blunt sentences. But Bolaño punctuates other, quieter key moments in the narrative with dense, figurative, poetic passages that jump off the page in contrast to the hard-boiled detective prose.

The first occurrence is on page 234, in the paragraph-long sentence describing Fate’s dream, where he watches a nightmarish, alternate version of a film and comes to the conclusion that “all criticism is ultimately a nightmare,” meaning that our interpretations of reality are never more solid than a bad dream. Bolaño uses this lyrical moment to establish Fate’s character before we embark on our journey with him, to show us the subconscious effect his mother’s death is taking on him, to demonstrate that he is already questioning reality.

The second occurrence is on pages 266 and 267, in the dialogue of the White-Haired Man as he theorizes about the origins of evil, the filtering of death through words, and the murders in Santa Teresa. The White-Haired Man’s monologues directly address the themes of 2666, and his voice sounds almost like a surrogate for the author’s.

The third occurrence of note comes on page 289, when Oscar has a sudden, unforeseeable character shift in a Mexican bar:

“For a brief moment he couldn’t breathe, he saw his mother’s empty apartment, he had a premonition of two people making love in a miserable room, all at the same time, a moment defined by the word climacteric.”

Another occurrence is on page 320 when Fate arrives at Charlie Cruz’s house. Bolaño inserts an eerie bit of symbolic foreshadowing when he bursts into a lyrical description of a mural in Charlie’s garage, a striking depiction of the Virgin of Guadalupe with one eye closed.

Finally, the very end of The Part About Fate is marked with more lyrical flourishes. As the blond giant approaches, Fate believes he might still be dreaming, that he is himself a giant lost in the middle of a burned forest, as the prisoner (the “polyglot woodcutter”)  saunters in, smiling and singing in German.

These small but well-placed passages of subjective, poetic prose not only make The Part About Fate more than an imitative Raymond Chandler homage, they also create appetites, suspense, and tension. Bolaño turns to the same technique in the next book, The Part About the Crimes, in order to break up the endless objective descriptions of murder and rape.


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