The Insufferable Gaucho
is a mix of fiction (five short stories) and two essays which revisit themes, implicitly and explicitly, from Bolaño’s most ambitious novels, 2666 and The Savage Detectives
The Short Stories:
Jim—on the surface, a very short story about a troubled Vietnam veteran living the life of a poet in Mexico. Its brevity speaks to the question: What can we know about other people—their demons? The story will almost necessarily remind readers of The Savage Detectives and the character of Jim could easily have been developed for inclusion in that title or excised from it.
The Insufferable Gaucho—a retired lawyer/judge, Manuel Pereda, leaves the economic collapse of Buenos Aires for a simpler life at his remote ranch on the pampas—a pampas filled with an abundance of vicious rabbits—and considers his place in the world. In a remarkable passage describing Manuel’s ride with a psychiatrist friend of his son, Bolaño describes their encounter with a destitute family: “The children kept their eyes fixed on the psychiatrist, who adopted a maternal attitude, though not for long, since she soon noticed, as she later explained to Pereda, a malevolent intention in their gaze, a mischievous plan formulated, so she felt, in a language full of consonants, yelps, and grudges.” An effective use of hendiatris.
On police work vs. the work of a judge, the narrator tells us, [Bolaño does not use quotation marks; here Pereda is speaking] “Police work’s about order, he said, while judges defend justice.” This segues nicely with the next story:
Police Rat—Pepe the Cop, who patrols the depths of a cavernous underworld of sewers and tunnels, man-made and rat-made (he too is a rat), is discouraged by others when he begins investigating the murders of fellow rats, discouraged because that investigation disrupts the order of the community—Pepe seeks justice. Readers of 2666 will almost necessarily re-examine the motives of the police in the Part about the Crimes.
Alvaro Rousselot’s Journey—Alvaro Rousselot, an Argentinian writer, travels to France in search of the French director who’s been filming his books without giving the author credit or royalties and makes an amazing discovery about himself.
Two Catholic Tales—I. The Vocation—a young, unnamed narrator considers the priesthood, the martyrdom of St. Vincent, and his own martyrdom, while discussing films with a friend and waiting for his calling. II. Chance—a lunatic considers his youth, is encouraged to escape the asylum by a fellow inmate, and makes his unfortunate way through the city. The stories work together, a literary diptych. Stunning.
Literature + Illness = Illness—a rambling essay which wends its way through considerations of his own illness and fucking, Mallarmé’s "Brise Marine" and Baudelaire’s “The Voyage,” illness and travel, the epigraph to 2666 “Oases of fear in the wasteland of ennui” (the American version of 2666 use the translation: Oases of horror in the desert of boredom)], illness and art, and art and the now
The Myths of Cthulhu—another wandering essay which reads like a section of [b:Roberto Bolaño: The Last Interview & Other Conversations with all signs of the interviewer suppressed: a discussion of writers, writing, the state of Latin American literature, and his interesting takes on some of the best known Latin American literary giants (Paz, Garcia Marquez, Cortazar, Vargas LLosa, et al.
It’s really the inclusion of the final two essays which pushed my rating of this title from four stars to five; his essays are told with the same voice as his novels, with dark humor, passion and heart.