December 17, 2008

Roberto Bolaño - "2666," "Part 4 - The Part About The Crimes"

"The truth is, none of it made any sense" (p.595)

The fourth and longest part of "2666" details the deaths (or rather, the discovery of the corpses) of the 106 women murdered in Santa Teresa and the surrounding area in the five year period between January 1993 and December 1997. Some of the crimes appear to have been committed by a serial killer or serial killers, others by husbands, lovers, clients, narcos (drug traffickers), police etc etc. Every new discovery begins with a description of the body and how it is found. If the police manage to identify the victim we find out a little about the woman who has been killed. In a few cases they work out who has murdered her and, in little more than a handful, they manage to catch the perpetrator before he escapes across the border to the US or seemingly vanishes into thin air.

Interleaved between these grim, matter-of-fact vignettes are the stories of policemen Inspector Juan de Dios Martínez, Lalo Cura (who, if I've read it right, may be the son of Arturo Belano or Ulysses Lima from "Savage Detectives") and Epifanio Galindo (the book's three 'good cops'); arts journalist Sergio González; suspected serial killer Klaus Haas (the Lynchian giant who ends "The Part About Fate" and who I'm guessing will be related to Archimboldi from Part 1 in some way); US sheriff Harry Magaña; herbalist and 'seer' Florita Almada; ex-FBI expert on serial killers, Albert Kessler; and congresswoman Azucena Esquivel Plata. And in addition to these main stories are many others which are folded in, introduced as clues or as red herrings, or just as static.

The effect is slightly bewildering, presumably deliberately so. We're forced to follow the police - the way they become distracted over and over again from the main task at hand, are always being pulled away from the central core of what the whole book is about. At root, the cause of the murders seems to be the deep misogyny of society as a whole, the police joking about how many orifices semen has been found in, husbands killing their wives for no reason, a city working at a fever pitch of violence, the economy fuelled by illicit drugs money, occupying a strange interzone between two states.

But perhaps the most shocking thing about "Part 4" as a book is its refusal to draw conclusions. The only stories that end in this Part are the ones that end in death. This is not done in a standard "aestheticized" manner, where the tone of the prose is supposed to offer the 'closure' which the narrative appears to refuse. The stories simply stop as if only half way through. No conclusions are drawn. No poetic language is offered, the characters benefit from no new insight, however small. Any hint of an 'arc' to the story is denied. It's brutal and wholly effective - the temptation is to see the book as unfinished. But why not read it as a deliberate strategy? To offer any aesthetic sop would be to cheapen what's being described. "None of it made any sense."

"Every life, Epifanio said that night to Lalo Cura, no matter how happy it is, ends in pain and suffering. That depends, said Lalo Cura. Depends on what, champ? On lots of things, said Lalo Cura. Say you're shot in the back of the head, for example, and you don't hear the motherfucker come up behind you, then you're off to the next world, no pain, no suffering. Goddamn kid, said Epifanio. Have you ever been shot in the back of the head?" (p.511)

Books of the Year will be back tomorrow, with the choices of Richard Thomas, director of the Laugharne Weekend literary festival. Apologies for the interruption in service, but I promised the Bolaño updates first...

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