On The Part About the Crimes (2666)

11Feb09

In which The Gay Recluse reads Roberto Bolaño in stages.

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In the fourth book of 2666, we are presented with something of an encyclopedia of the literally thousands of crimes (99 percent of them against women) that occur in Bolano’s fictional border city of Santa Teresa — modeled on the real Juarez — over a period of perhaps ten years, with an emphasis on those who were tortured, raped, mutilated (sometimes but not always in the same horrible way) and murdered, and whose bodies were most often found in the desert or an illegal dump or a remote ravine or ditch.

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For the most part, Bolano describes these murders in the distant, clinical tone of a medical report — or sometime the more hard-boiled prose of a detective novel — and gives a short summary of the investigative follow-up, which invariably dissolves into the case being “shelved” for all of the usual reasons (apathy, no clues, lost evidence, no resources, horrible bureaucracy, possible cover-ups). But even as the mounting atrocity of the events described threatens to paralyze us, there is enough nuance and lyrical beauty to the prose, so that we are like a victim beaten down and increasingly horrified that these murders could continue for so long, with so little apparent repercussion to those committing them.

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Which of course begs the question of who in fact is committing them, and here Bolano also has an amazing ability to draw us into the many different possibilities, while identifying none as dispositive. There are drug dealers and pimps and rich capitalists — the factory owners who hire these women — who may or may not be involved; there is a creepy “gringo” who “seems like” a serial killer and may or may not be orchestrating kidnappings/murders from a prison, even after he’s arrested; there are government officials who may or may not be in league with the drug dealers and pimps and capitalists; there are the police, whose baseline level of misogyny is so high as to be completely demoralizing as they laugh about all the different ways a woman can be raped; there are men in general in this society, who are brought up to view women as subhumans, and there are women who for whatever reason become enmeshed with these men; above all else, there is capitalism and money, which trumps even the most violent of crimes.

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Bolano gives us all of this and more, so that by the end, we have no choice but to indict society, i.e., ourselves, because while Santa Teresa (and Mexico) may or may not be a special case, it’s clearly less (of a special case) than more. In essence, it’s hard to emerge from this book without a conviction that we are all guilty of these horrible acts.

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It could probably be argued that Bolano’s reflection of reality in this regard is a little too realistic for purposes of a novel; is it really necessary to introduce us to so many characters and leave their stories unresolved? Ultimately it didn’t bother us, because underneath the brutality his work resonates with a compassion for the murdered women — or women in general — that leads us as readers to care about what he’s describing, even if we know — like in real life — so little of it will lead anywhere.

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One question we continue to ask is exactly where Bolano stands with regard to the gays. Although Bolano (unlike 98 percent of U.S novelists, who obv prefer to ignore the issue completely) is to be commended for weaving — what? an awareness, a motif — a presence through the text — e.g., “[a]s you’re well aware,” says one character about Mexico, “this is a macho country full of faggots” — it cannot be doubted that 2666 is pervasively homophobic to the extent that virtually every character — from university professors to blue-collar cops to outspoken feminists — when offered even the slightest opportunity uses it to express nothing but disdain for limp-wristed faggots or fudge packers or whatever else. (There are also brutally violent prison scenes of men raping each other — and worse.) While we admire the truthful tone of this hateful treatment of faggots in Bolano’s work, so far we’ve felt none of the compassion he shows for women; it leaves us a little wistful, knowing that in this fictional world — like the real one — we are somehow even worse off than the hundreds of desperate whores left to rot in the desert and be picked apart by the vultures.

The 2666 Review Roundup:
The Part About the Critics
The Part About Amalfitano
The Part About Fate
The Part About Archimboldi

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One Response to “On The Part About the Crimes (2666)”

  1. 1 Margo

    I was going to comment favorably on this post– Bolano’s less than ideal treatment of gay issues is an area worth exploring–but your last sentence is so sickeningly offensive as to make me question your real intentions. You either have not read the book very closely (the victims were almost all highschool-college aged factory workers) or by calling the rape-and-murder victims “hundreds of desperate whores” you are deliberately trying to pit women against gay men in a kind of victim olympics. Either way, I won’t be reading this blog anymore. It’s not worth my or any other ethical, sane person’s time.


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