I’m increasingly approaching these posthumous publications of Bolaño’s work with more and more skepticism. In the preface to this volume, Ignacio Echevarría (the literary executor of Bolaño’s estate, and presumably a good, loyal friend who RB trusted with the livelihood of his family), states, “All his narratives, not just The Secret of Evil, seem to be governed by a poetics of inconclusiveness”—that as much seems to be the case as it seems to be an excellent marketing ploy to publish these pieces at their various stages of completion. I prefer to believe the former, but the skeptic in me keeps considering the latter. Whichever the case may be, this is a welcome volume for the ‘completists’ (like me), and probably not the title best recommended to those looking to get a taste of Bolaño at his finest. That said, I’m looking forward to the arrival of Woes of the True Policeman: A Novel sometime in November. What follows is the briefest descriptions of the various pieces in this collection, easily skippable, but you should, if you have any sort of curiosity at all, read the description of the piece Scholars of Sodom.
Colonia Lindavista—The narrator recalls the apartment he shared with his family in Mexico, when he was just beginning to write and after arriving from Chile.
The Secret of Evil—A necessarily unfinished story, as its first sentence says it must be, in which Joe A. Kelso, a North American journalist, has a clandestine meeting with Sacha Pinsky (an informant?) in a Paris bar over croissants and coffee.
The Old Man of the Mountain— Belano and Lima (remember The Savage Detectives?) meet in Mexico City, alienate the Mexican literary establishment, and proceed on their separate trajectories.
The Colonel’s Son—I’ll be Go to Hell. The narrator describes seeing a movie, one which might be biographical or autobiographical, in the wee hours of the morning—a movie of young love on the run and zombies, with no budget, no production skills on display, and little plot. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, Bolaño did zombies—his way.
Scholars of Sodom—The narrator reflects on seeing V.S. Naipaul walking determinedly through the streets of Buenos Aires and wondering about the story he’d intended to write on the author to include thoughts on Naipaul’s peculiar willingness to dismiss Argentinean culture due to their historic fascination with and practice of sodomy (then again, it might just be the narrator’s take on the story he didn’t write). Nice. All I’ll say on the matter is that if you haven’t seen Argentinean porn, you might not understand that it
The Room Next Door—The narrator remembers an overheard conversation from an adjacent hotel room as he stares at a gun aimed at his head.
Labyrinth—A group of friends, literary personages, pose at a table in an outdoor café before wandering off to appear in other photographs, in various regroupings, while the narrator considers what each might be considering beyond the photograph’s frame.
The Vagaries of the Literature of Doom—A previously published speech on the authors who dominate the ‘Argentine canon’ (Arlt, Lamborghini and Soriano), and the author’s decided preference for Borges. Included in Between Parentheses: Essays, Articles, and Speeches, 1998-2003.
Crimes—A young, or not so young, journalist who has two lovers discusses the murder of a young, or not so young, woman with a man she’s just met.
I Can’t Read—Bolaño (not a narrator, as this doesn’t seem to be a story) recalls his first return to Chile with his wife and son, Lautaro, who peed in a pool and taught another child how to approach automatic doors without setting off the opening mechanism; on his second return to Chile, he was attacked en masse by both left- and right-wing authors. Lautaro’s ability to not trigger the door led Bolaño to say:
I can’t remember which writer said that if God was omnipresent, automatic doors should always be open.I’ll probably never forget that, and beat the thought to death.
Beach—An ex-junkie who’s undergoing methadone treatment goes to the beach in Blanes each day and considers the other people who visit and time. Included in Between Parentheses: Essays, Articles, and Speeches, 1998-2003 and characters at the beach may seem familiar to readers of The Third Reich.
Muscles—Marta recounts life with her body-builder brother, Enric, his failed romance with her co-worker and ex-close friend who has become bitter about him, and his bringing two young men to their apartment to stay with them. For my money, one of the better, more complete feeling stories.
The Tour—A member of a successful band leaves the group which continues to turn out increasingly successful albums only to resurface decades later. Kind of a yawner.
Daniela—A young woman loses her virginity at an early age, considers telling on the man who deflowered her, and considers her place in the universe, not the world. Daniela de Montecristo made her first appearance in Nazi Literature in the Americas.
Suntan—An actress considers fostering another child from a war-torn region of the world and her career.
Death of Ulises—While en route to the Guadalajara Book Fair, our hero, Arturo Belano, aborts his trip while still in Mexico City and, instead, visits the building where his friend, Ulises Lima (aka Mario Santiago) had lived and meets the fat rock band who live next door and claim to be the last of Lima’s disciples.
When he can finally close his eyes again, he sees his taxi driving at full speed down a busy avenue, while robbers hold up other taxis and passengers die with terrified expressions on their faces. Vaguely familiar gestures and words. Fear. Then he sees nothing and falls asleep the way a stone falls down a well.This one definitely feels like Bolaño.
The Troublemaker—A young, Spanish poet gets caught up in anti-Iraq War protests and encourages others to express the same feeling.
Sevilla Kills Me—A very brief, humorous speech on who is responsible for what will become the important Latin American literature. Previously printed in Between Parentheses: Essays, Articles, and Speeches, 1998-2003.
The Days of Chaos—At age 15, Geronimo Belano makes his first trip away from home with friends and without adults and disappears during the Days of Chaos; at age 15, Belano moved from Chile to Mexico City with his family.
Bolaño Lite, recommended for the die hards.