Thursday, October 16, 2008

2666 BY ROBERTO BOLANO, TRUE CRIME and TRANQUILITY: some hints for reading now

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2666 By Roberto Bolano has landed and will be making its way into bookstores. It probably should have come with stickers: ONLY TO BE READ AFTER READING THE SAVAGE DETECTIVES. As 2666 is likely to be the only big literary book of this season--- and it is a genuine literary book, the real thing--- most readers will have read THE SAVAGE DETECTIVES in great expectation of 2666 but new readers will find the first long section of 2666 tough going though for readers of THE SAVAGE DETECTIVES we well know there is a reason, a purpose behind what could be very off-putting: the entanglements of four academic critics with a reclusive German author's life and novels.

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To date no one has mentioned the name B. Traven but since Bolano is soaked in literature and surely he is aware that B. Traven is the only German author who is in anyway mysterious and surely Bolano is depending on our faint memories of Traven...

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2666 is a baroque balloon capping Bolano's career. It is not a Finnegans Wake to his Ulysses. It is of a piece with all his work.

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If Bolano was alive I think that he would be reading two other books published this season in New York. As 2666 is filled with violent crime he would be reading the Library of America's TRUE CRIME, edited by Harold Schechter. He would have remembered Williams Burroughs talking about how essential crime was to American life: it was there before the Indians… as you well remember.

TRUE CRIME: from the first murder and the first hanging in Boston mentioned by William Bradford to Dominick Dunne, by way of Jack Webb (Dragnet) and a wonderfully rescued piece by Dorothy Kilgallen who I remember reading in the old Journal American which my father brought home at night turned to the comics page though mother was listening to her on the radio having lunch at Sardi's talking of the celebrities lunching around her and her husband Dick..

Much as the characters in Robert Musil's great novel THE MAN WITHOUT QUALITIES were fascinated by a brutal psychopath, TRUE CRIME has stories about the two disturbing and ever fascinating contemporary killers, Charles Manson and Ed Gein who together occupy much of the popular imagination with either their deeds or their influence on an endless series of trashy violent movies

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As I was reading Robert Bloch's piece on Ed Gein (the inspiration for PSYCHO) I was remembering Duane, the boyfriend of Bink Noll in Beloit, talking about growing up in the same town as Ed Gein. Duane was a little odd being a male nipple fetishist who published a newsletter for those so inclined from Noll's basement via a post office box in South Beloit. Duane said that was the most disturbing aspect of Gein's career was that he had supplied meat for sausages to the local butcher shop and when he was found out people realized they had been eating their relatives for quite some time…

Another friend who had become a cop in Wisconsin after college told me that he had been up the state lunatic asylum to look at Ed Gein who was their prized exhibit and was a reminder that criminals are very very ordinary looking.

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TRUE CRIME is the best anthology that the Library of America has published… well to be really scrupulous it is the best if you also say that their anthology on Los Angeles and about American in Paris are also included in that bite of praise…

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AND TRANQUILITY (Arhipelago Books)the first novel of Attila Bartis to be published in the United States would attract Bolano. I have written a review of it which will appear shortly in the LA Times… SO not to chew the cabbage twice. Bolano would have liked the particularity of detail in TRANQUILITY: the acceptance of the appearance of convention and then the trusting to a fearless honesty and the necessity of destroying chronological time in the telling of his narrator's entanglement with his mother, his father, his father's whore and the sister in exile… Bartos with this novel joins that little essential pantheon made in Hungary composed of Peter Nadas, Peter Ezsterhazy, Imre Kertesz and Zsuzsa Bank

4 comments:

peter said...

2666 cannot arrive fast enough! & thanks for the Attila Bartis tip... archipelago books is publishing some great stuff. nice to get these reading hints coupled with informd comment in one place

Bud Parr said...

2666 was fantastic - you're right about the first section, but I would have to say that it also suffered from being the farthest away from the characters that RB does best: those who are on the margins.

Anonymous said...

Earle Nelson still tops the psycho list in my book. No peace-and-love Manson garbage from him. No screwed-up family history like Gein's. Just bumped his head and from then on it was kill, kill, kill, with a Bible in his hip pocket.

Apropos to mention a Hungarian author in connection with serial killers. Hungary is a nation of potential serial killers but it's been a long time since (the original) Attila. As it is they're a nation of wife-beaters. OJ Simpson was actually once introduced on Hungarian TV when he was in Budapest as "our hero OJ." Google it.

There were a lot of Hungarians in the ranks of the overseas Okhrana before WWI. Handing out proto-Protocols leaflets and books left and right like there was no tomorrow. And if it were left up to them, there wouldn't have been one.

But are there any good Hungarians, you ask? There was one. Ernie Kovacs. But he's long gone.

A. said...

It's interesting how Bolano's own death speaks to the death and violence inside his book. I found an interesting discussion at Pandalous. It's here: http://www.pandalous.com/nodes/2666_a_novel