The Pale King approacheth

It took me a while to read the reviews of the soon-to-be-released David Foster Wallace novel The Pale King. I think I am the only academic who has cried at the two conferences I’ve attended where Wallace papers were presented. I might be the only contemporary literature scholar who is not eagerly anticipating the arrival of his final novel.

And I’ve been saying that since Michael Pietsch announced that Little Brown would be publishing whatever he could agglomerate of Wallace’s final, incomplete work. (Quick note: I am of the school that Pietsch and Green knew and loved Wallace and his work well enough to know whether they had enough to publish and honor the art and artist. I find it ludicrous that some people are alleging that this novel is about cashing in or commodifying Wallace’s death. Those people should, with no respect due, shut their pie holes.)

But I digress (so you don’t remember I’m the one crying when someone reviews a book I haven’t read yet. Ahem.)

I feel like an ass admitting that I cry every time someone mentions the upcoming book. I feel like a dolt blogging about it. But such is my asinine doltishness. See also my asinine doltish posts on parenting, scholarship, flotsam, and jetsam.

I read one sentence into the Esquire review of The Pale King and burst into tears. After two more tries (a couple of days apart) I actually made it through the glowing, bowing, scraping, and genuflecting review.

Now I might actually read the book. Who can turn down a text that Publisher’s Weekly calls “one hell of a document and a valiant tribute to the late Wallace, being, as it is, a transfixing and hyper-literate descent into relentless, inescapable despair and soul-negating boredom”? Not me. Already transfixed by boredom and relentless despair. To have that frustration and what’s-it-all-for anxiety narrated by my favorite author?

Sign. Me. Up.

Alsup alleges, in his Esquire review, that The Pale King might keep you up at night because “because D.F.W. writes sentences and sometimes whole pages that make you feel like you can’t breathe.” That is true, sir. That’s why I absolutely devour Infinite Jest each time I read it. That’s why I still wince at the pain of knowing David Foster Wallace isn’t writing any more. And I wince a bit with fear that The Pale King will be as uneven and good-but-uninspired as I found Oblivion.

If I read this novel, I need it to be earth shifting. I need it to top Infinite Jest. I need it to be a gift befitting DFW.

And that’s an unreasonable request, especially for an unfinished work.

That, probably, more than the sadness that lingers about his death, is why I don’t want to read The Pale King.

Chick lit and Franzenfreude

I was unaware, as I began reading Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, that there exists a growing anger toward him because he’s male. The criticism doesn’t seem to be about his writing of female characters or his focus on male characters. The frustration, according to the media, is that the attention he’s receiving isn’t being given to female authors.

Maybe the media is getting the complaints wrong. Maybe the assertions that Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Weiner are mad about the media circus surrounding Freedom‘s release have to do with something more than a misplaced perception that “white male authors get all the attention.” Because there is certainly something to the criticism that there are NYTBR books and there are so-called chick lit books and ne’er the ‘twain shall meet. I don’t agree with that distinction, but I do believe in the distinction between literature and fiction.

I don’t agree with Time magazine that Franzen is The Great American Novelist. But I do agree that he’s writing something important and completely apart from that which most American authors write. Canonical lit? We’ll see. I don’t personally think so. But I really don’t think that Picoult or Weiner are writing literature.

Franzen’s maleness is hardly his fault. Yes, it’s frustrating that when critics and professors speak of American literature they tend to load the deck with male authors and hang on to alleged classics for the sake of tradition rather than taste (reference how many more people cite the infernal Catcher in the Rye and The Great Gatsby over To Kill a Mockingbird, the latter of which is precisely three thousand times better than either the Salinger or the Fitzgerald as a social critique and character-driven narrative. But Catcher and Gatsby are focused on different moments in time, different themes, different pieces of Americana and are still valid parts of the canon. Even though I can’t stand reading them.)

Some men write really well and deserve critical praise. Some women write really well and deserve critical praise—but do they deserve more praise than they get?

Certainly women writing today get more attention than women used to get. More female lead characters in the canon, more female authors. In my graduate program we read a lot of Walker and Morrison and Nin and Stein and Barnes and Atwood and Perkins-Gilman and Wharton; so I’m not sure that the drumbeat of “women are ignored” really holds true.

The number of male-crafted texts revered in NYT circles still outnumbers the number of female-crafted texts, sure. But are we asking the wrong question?

Is the author the real issue or is the content the more important place to focus our feminist demand for equal time? The “pros versus readers” list of best millennial fiction from The Millions cites 20 books (including duplicates), 10 of which are by women. So? Should we be counting? Or should we be reading carefully to see if women and men exist, fully formed in these texts?

A decent Salon article points out that women tend to write bestsellers and men tend to receive accolades for their brilliance. And thus begins the age-old popular culture versus high culture nonsense, a debate that is false in its pretenses and its conclusions. Because women write brilliant literature. And men write throwaway novels. Gender is not the issue.

Look, it would be nice to see as many female author names as male names on a list, because we tend to write about different things from different perspectives. But despite what I believe about the importance of womanist fiction, authorial gender is not the point. I’d like to read good books and, later, when recommending them, notice that they’re by women. Or men. I don’t care about who writes them. I care what they write about and how they craft their novels.

I care that the characters are three-dimensional, believable, deeply felt proto-humans. I want well crafted male characters and female characters. Make the situations in which they operate real or surreal, but make the characters seem viable, possible, and believable. My absolute favorite contemporary novel Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace has some pretty serious gaps in the “fully realized female characters” department. I believe it suffers because the women have almost no voice. Franzen gives me less impressive language, less humor, fewer arrestingly painful moments, but bigger, bolder, more solidly credible female voices. And so few books written by either men or women do that. No, he’s not Walker or Stein or Hurston, but he’s also not Joyce or James or Wallace. I’m not in the mood to bash Franzen for being something he’s not.

Why Parents Hate Parenting

Oh, boy. There are a big steaming bundle of quotes in this New York Magazine article on the huge pile of crap that is contemporary parenting. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways:

Did someone say their emotional life is “a high-amplitude, high-frequency sine curve along which we get the privilege of doing hourly surfs”?

Yes, yes she did.

Did somebody remind us of the research that shows “Most people assume that having children will make them happier. Yet a wide variety of academic research shows that parents are not happier than their childless peers, and in many cases are less so”? Yup. Same article.

Hmm. “As a rule, most studies show that mothers are less happy than fathers, that single parents are less happy still, that babies and toddlers are the hardest, and that each successive child produces diminishing returns,” you say? Tell me more. Despite believing firmly in attachment parenting, in offering a supportive, firm, and respectful environment, despite being on top of the current child development research on how discipline means teaching and therefore must be gentle, this article sings the refrain of how much parenting sucks.

The article mentions that people seem skeptical of this data, seem to pity those “for whom” this is true. Those must be the lying liars on facebook who claim life is always a bowl of cheesy-poofs.

Or, did I mention, they’re lying liars. Before Spouse and I had Peanut, my OB said, “avoid anyone who tells you parenting is bliss, wonderfully rewarding, or a blessing. Parenting is rarely joyful. Children can be delightful. Parenting is a hot steaming bowl of stress thrown on your favorite couch. While you’re on it.”

Some people, as one researcher notes, want children and think they’ll be happy, only to find that offspring “offer moments of transcendence, not an overall improvement in well-being.” The moments of bliss are opiate. And the rest of the day is 23.5 hours of drudgery.

Because, as the article quips, as industrialization led to sheltered childhoods (rather than apprenticeships and farm labor at a young age) children “went from being our staffs to being our bosses.”

I bristle at the suggestion that it’s organizing projects and scheduling children that makes parenting difficult. Luckily, the article clarifies that it’s actively paying attention to children rather than ignoring them that is so freaking exhausting. Soccer and ballet aren’t the problem. Knowing that discipline means teaching gently and consistently, listening and responding empathetically teaches emotional maturity, attachment leads to independence, and subverting your desires to help your children become model citizens is simply way more work than any paid job.

And this parenting job sucks the life out of parents who work at home or who work outside the home. “Today’s married mothers also have less leisure time (5.4 fewer hours per week); 71 percent say they crave more time for themselves (as do 57 percent of married fathers). Yet 85 percent of all parents still—still!—think they don’t spend enough time with their children.”

Not surprisingly, those societies (I’m looking at you, Holland) that value nurturing children, that pay for a parent to stay home with babies for over a year, that support breastfeeding, that pay for good education and health care, and that offer quality childcare to all workers means parents are less exhausted, stressed, and angry. “Countries with stronger welfare systems produce more children—and happier parents.” But we’re buying Baby Einstein crap instead of lobbying for social changes that will actually produce smarter, healthier, more self assured children.

This article makes me want to shake every person pining for a child and show them that: “Children may provide unrivaled moments of joy. But they also provide unrivaled moments of frustration, tedium, anxiety, heartbreak.” Parenting is not all buttercups and rainbows. And it’s not just the vomit and the late nights and the filthy carseats. It’s soul DRAINING, emotionally WRENCHING, personally EXHAUSTING bullshit day in and day out that leaves icky stains on life.

And yet we smile for the ten seconds each hour that our children are joyful, those crazy-making little monsters for whom we sacrifice what seems like everything.

Bolano’s 2666

So I read 2666 with the Infinite Summer crowd, and posted here, weekly, my favorite quotes and my growing disenchantment with the novel.

And nobody in the whole wide world noticed that I stopped reading 50 pages from the end. Just fizzled out 840+ pages into a book…and don’t know when, if ever, I’ll pick it up again.

I’m glad I engaged with Bolano’s massive undertaking but I just didn’t like the text. Some moments, sure, but they were few, far between, and underleveraged. I’ll try Savage Detective some day. After the long list of books already recommended to me, and the stuff sitting in my pile of “the second I get a chance I’m reading this.” And after I finish some journal submissions. And client work. And another novel.

Maybe in 2026.

Bolano 2666 quote of the week (15)

Ugh, This is the third time I’ve tried to write this post…each time something crashes and my response to the week’s reading is lost to the ether.

And it bears saying, I’m not excited enough about the reading to fuel three posts. So here’s the abbreviated version:

It’s terrifically hard to get engaged in The Part About Archimboldi, following as it does The Part About The Crimes. This week’s reading includes a terribly disturbing history of a small German town that receives an accidental shipment of Jews bound for concentration camps…the narration and inner monologues here are creepy and compelling and human and disgusting and exactly what I wanted in The Part About the Crimes. I wanted to be compelled to look and be horrified at what I saw. In the Crimes, however, I got a laundry list of dead bodies. In Archimboldi I read the personal account of the avoidance of bodies. Shudder-inducing and brilliantly written.

Nazis and Communists, soliders and writers, this section scurries through history, pausing occasionally to sniff at some man who means something to Hans Reiter. In the way that The Part About the Crimes ignores the sociopolitical forces that conspire to murder women in Santa Teresa, The Part About Archimboldi breezes by a lot of historical data to leer at naked bodies and tormented minds.

And its all more readable than the rest of the novel. But it’s almost too late.

Says the man who dispatched a whole town to murder groups of Jews day after day after day:

“I was a fair administrator. I did good things, guided by my instincts, and bad things, driven by the vacissitudes of war. But now the drunken Polish boys will open their mouths and say I ruined their childhoods, said Sammer to Reiter. Me? I ruined their childhoods? Liquor ruined their childhoods! Soccer ruined their childhoods! Those lazy shiftless mothers ruined their childhoods! Not me” (767).

Bolano’s 2666 quote of the week (13)

This week’s quote parallels my experience reading this week’s section:

“Then the one-eyed man shifted in his chair, pulled a blanket up to his chin, and said: our commander”s name was Korolenko and he died the same day. Then, at supersonic speed, Ansky imagined Verbitsky and Korolenko, he saw Korolenko mocking Verbintsky, heard what Korolenko said behind Vebitnsky’s back, entered into Verbitnsky’s night thoughts, Korolenko’s desires, into each man’s vague and shifting dreams, into their convictions and their rides on hoseback, the forests they left behind and the flooded lands they crossed, the sounds of night in the open and the unintelligible morning conversations before they mounted again. He saw villages and farmland, he saw churches and hazy clouds of smoke rising on the horizon, until he came to the day when they both died, Verbintsky and Korolenko, a perfectly gray day, utterly gray, as if a thousand-mile-long cloud had passed over the land without stopping, endless. At that moment, which hardly lastted a second, Ansky decided that he didn’t want  to be a soldier, but at the very same moment the officer handed him a paper and told him to sign. Now he was a soldier” (709).

The section is written as though dreamed, and it flows by in a second, and I decide I don’t want to engage anymore, but there I am, done with the reading and left in a new state, knowing and bewildered.

Bolano’s 2666 quote of the week (12)

Hans Reiter is a child of the water, in a one-eyed, one-legged family. Mmmmkay.  Diving, swimming, drowning, enlisting, befriending, spying, and a woman obsessed with Aztecs. Mmmmmmkay.

This is the sense I’ve missed since Amalfitano, but I just can’t get engaged. Is this the guy who winds up, somehow, in the prison in Santa Teresa? From this?:

“Then his mother stared at him with her blue eye and the boy held her gaze with his two blue eyes, and from the corner near the hearth, the one-legged man watched them both with his two blue eyes and for three or four seconds the island of Prussia seemed to rise from the depths” (644).

Somehow via the Third Reich?

“It was around this time, as they walked under the sun or the gray clouds, enormous, endless gray clouds that brought tidings of a fall to remember, and his battalion left behind village after village, that Hans imagined that under his Wehrmacht uniform he was wearing the suit or garb of a madman” (670).

Makes me think of Amaranta in One Hundred Years of Solitude and Rosa in House of the Spirits. Not through any clear parallel, but as a cyan negative to their passion and vitality.

Bolano’s 2666 quote of the week (11)

Ah, the Crimes. Bye bye, crimes. What I have gleaned from your voluminous horror is that life is nasty, brutish, and short, and that while we devalue women and throw the in the trash in death, we spend not one moment thinking about their lives in the maquiladores. We benefit from the economic system in which they are disposable, and then we are horrified when they are disposed.

Good, good times, international economy.

And while the violence against men is much more frequent, we hole it up in prisons and boxing matches, creating a compartmentalized culture of viciousness that we then shug off and romanticize. Raping and murdering women is somehow both terrible and ignorable, while raping and murdering men is at once terrible and expected.

Good, good times, penal system. Panopticon, indeed. Fetishizing gaze and violence…yeehaw.

Finally, in the congresswoman’s story, we get to the center of at least one of the murders…actual investigation, revelations, seedy underbelly of a culture. But even that ends without resolution, unsatisfactorily.

Frustrating.

“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?” (511).

Bolano’s 2666 quote of the week (10)

Ah, 2666. Your methodical recording of misogyny, legal incompetence, and cultural neglect of humanity continues unabated. Way to stick with it, really. I couldn’t write this telescopic focus on a dump alongside a border town that could be a symbol for all that is wrong with trade and consumerism and capitalism and the war on drugs and tiered social systems that offer as little hope as a caste system for 400+ pages. Congratulations?

In going back over this section, I noted, as Dan Summers does over at bleakonomy, the despicable blathering of civil servants over breakfast: two full pages of jokes about beating women, complete with standards about belonging in the kitchen, having no brain, and being useful only for sex. Social tradition noted, vapid machismo noted, and nausea calmed only slightly by watching the linguistic choices in the passage. The repeated call and answer format of the so-called jokes, the Spanglish convention of beginning the answers with pues, and the increased violence of these particular jokes over the standards in the U.S. were all notable. But what a despicable way to spend two pages, which David calls the nadir of the novel’s misogyny, to depict the officers spending the time after the long day at work. The long day in which they assume, if a murder victim had red toenail polish she must have been a whore (520).

Dan also notes the interesting and welcome interlude about Lalo Cura’s family history of intensely resilient outsider matriarchs. Rape, thrive, rape, thrive, rape, thrive. While I’m not entirely sure about celebrating “good nature and the fortitude to endure periods of violence or extreme poverty” (555) because I much prefer generation stories of women kicking ass instead of enduring ass-kickings, but at this point I am fully aware that the Exposito women’s ability to make it out alive is more than most characters of the novel can claim. I’m really beginning to hate this depiction Mexico, I have to be honest, but I do appreciate the flavor of Marquez and of Allende in these passages. Of, if we went away with one of these women instead of tripping over the bodies of the narrative’s bodycount drumbeat.

In this section, too, we finally start seeing the narcos and their influence on the incompetence of the so-called authorities of Santa Teresa. “It seemed the police had fallen afoul of some big fish whose sons, the Jrs. off Santa Teresa, owned almost the entire fleet of the city’s Peregrinos (it was a car of choice for rich kids, like the Arcangel or Desertwind convertible), and they pulled strings to get the cops to stop fucking with them” (530).  Well, of course. One thread running through at least 20% of the murders are black Peregrinos, so closing off investigation of that connection is a great choice for the rich kids and another slap on the face of the brutalized and decomposing bodies in the dump. “When the neighbors were asked who lived in the house, their answers were contradictory, which made the patrolmen think it could be narcos and they’d better leave and not make trouble” (530).

So buried within 400+ pages of crimes, we see what the authorities can’t or won’t: suspects, motive, pattern of criminal behavior. The curtain wasn’t drawn too tightly, but at least Bolano led us to the corner and let us peek behind it before drawing us back into the narrative of confusion and helplessness. Others notice this, too, as reporters begin to ask “some questions out loud. If the murderer was behind bars, who had killed all these other women? If the killer’s lackeys or accomplices were behind bars, too, who was responsible for all these deaths? To what extent were Los Bisontes, that terrible and improbable youth gang, a real phenomenon and to what extent were they a police creation?” (559).

Good questions. Better question: when will we get to Archimboldi? Two weeks? Okay. But that’s all you get.  I’m so very done with the Crimes, with poverty, with misogyny, with rampant death, with ignoring the international implications of a maquiladores economy for the residents and the consumers. Get me outta here.

A special thanks to the people who made this post possible (other than Dan and David, whose posts reassured me that my addled brain is at least on the right section, if not making sense): to Hazelnut for actually sleeping for the half hour it took to write this, to Peanut and Spouse for playing so nicely so I could type without interruption, and to my mom for making dinner so I could take advantage of the Hazelnut nap. Yay team Nap. Ya made me feel like a human for half an hour!

Bolano’s 2666 quote of the week (9)

The Part About the Crimes continued last week with a telling interaction between Sergio Gonzalez and his bedmate:
“As he was talking the whore yawned, not because she wasn’t interested in what he was saying but because she was tired, which irritated Sergio and made him say, in exasperation, that in Santa Teresa they were killing whores, so why not show a little professional solidarity, to which the whore replied that he was wrong, in the story as he had told it the women dying were factory workers, not whores. Workers, workers, she said. And then Sergio apologized, as, as if a lightbulb had gone on over his head, he glimpsed an aspect of the situation that until now he’d overlooked” (466).

So now we are brought face to face with the reality…the maquiladores produce tax-free exports, primarily for the U.S. The women who work there are disposable, and not only do the Mexican communities ignore their brutal murders, but the consumers in the United States, complicit in the womens’ low-wage employment, have never even heard about their mass deaths. Disposable economy, disposable humanity. Right there in the whore’s bed we are taken to task about how we value things over people, consumption over people.

Geez, this is a fun text, she typed wryly, trying to wrestle her guilt back into the closet as the bodies in 2666 pile up in the dumps, a grotesque metaphor of our disposal of everything we have no need for, including Mexican women. “What surprised the reporters most,” though not any reader who has been paying attention, “was that no one claimed or acknowledged the body” (467).

Sheesh.

Lalo Cura finally figures out the town is run by narcos, Epifanio brings the misogyny in the novel to a new low by noting that a clerk was wearing a skirt and high heels and therefore must be sleeping with her boss (474), and Klaus Haas presents an interesting German figure that begins the “is he or isn’t he” wait for The Part about Archimboldi.

And finally, Florita’s crowning achievement, “to introduce the other women, who had something important to say. Then the WSDP activists stepped up to talk about the climate of impunity in Santa Teresa, the laxity of the police, the corrupttion, and the number of dead women, which had been constantly on the rise since 1993” (505). Of course, we are quickly ushered away from this scene of awareness toward a discussion of film, J.D. Salinger, and L.A. the rest of the week’s section shows the police solving several crimes, none of which involves women or murders. Because stolen cars are a priority, after all.

I despise myself for wanting The Part about the Crimes to end, because it should go on, every day, with body after body piling up until I can’t take it and actually DO something. But for now I’m writhing in discomfort watching nothing get done and wishing I could have Archimboldi or Amalfitano back for a while. That frustrating, incessant journalistic narrative march of case after unsolved case is clearly doing its job. I may have to retract my criticism of Bolano because this tactic is working. I am not growing numb to the deaths. I am increasingly uncomfortable.

Just what I need right now.

Bolano’s 2666 quote of the week (8)

Know what? I knew I’d get tired of murders and rapes and detached listing of such. But this morning while flipping through this week’s reading, in which I highlighted not one single line of text as remarkable, NPR had a segment on the murders in Juarez. Not a clever fictionalized version, but a detailing of the gross incompetence, the terror, the pervasive powerlessness, the futility of life there. And I wanted to vomit. I cried for a while, and I realized that, had I not already read the whole Part about the Crimes, I would stop this book right now.

I have finished the section, and did so only to get to Archimboldi. So I’ll post quotes in their appropriate weeks, and emotionally rejoin you when you climb out of Santa Teresa. I offer you no analysis or thoughts this week because this has ceased to be a project I enjoy. I feel like a witness to a crime who has chosen to stay silent and I’m chagrined.

2666 quote of the week (7)

You know what? I’m tired of finding quotes in this book. It’s a little game I began with Infinite Jest last summer because I was rereading the book and found some passages so compelling, so central, so clever, or so erudite that I needed to share. Needed to share.

With Bolano’s 2666? I’m kind of over the quotes. Because the novel is both compelling and frustrating, and I don’t want to retype. I want to read and, honestly, finish this damned thing and move on.

The Part about the Crimes: I read the first twenty pages and got pissed, so I went back and made some notes about the chapter’s foci. Nine pages of short descriptions wherein women’s bodies are found dumped unceremoniously, scant details are collected, and cases are closed without substantive investigation. Some of the murders are similar, some are not. Nine pages. Then twelve pages on a guy peeing in churches. Back to the women for three pages. And the serial urinator for three. You know what? I don’t need to be hit over the head with a mallet to know this book is about misogyny. But the mallet is there, nonetheless: “The attacks on [the churches] San Rafael and San Tadeo got more attention in the local press than the women killed in the preceeding months” (366).

Shocking? Nope. The religion dominating the area is well known for being, despite its commandment against false idols, one that supports worship of consecrated land and general disdain for women.

My fury over the casual disregard of hundreds of brutalized and composting women whose lives seem completely meaningless is provoked by the text to make a point. The murderers dump the bodies, the establishment dumps any responsibility for understanding or preventing further deaths. The culture is more fascinated by and upset about symbolic destruction of religion than by actual destruction of humans. Blasphemy is more important than murder. A post-Neitzschean dead God is valued but a postmodern woman is not. Saw that coming a thousand miles away, when the critics flew into Santa Teresa.

Gotta tell you, I’m more than a little angry about the casual discarding of women’s bodies by the murderers and of women’s stories by the narrator. Chalk up this week’s frustration to being way far ahead in the reading and less willing to leaf through 50 pages of macabre bullshit, to being nine months pregnant and a bit protective of women and girls everywhere, or to being frustrated that, while this is a good text that I believe is valuable and necessary, is not the right read for me in search of post-Wallace, post-postmodern enlightenment. But the anger is supposed to move me to action, to changing the state of affairs. To helping, to expressing outrage, to making a difference. And how the f— am I supposed to do that?

I’m just saying…this section pisses me off. I know it’s supposed to. That doesn’t help.

“But somewhere along the way something happened or something went permanently wrong and afterward her mother was told there was a chance she had run off with a man. She’s only sixteen, said her mother, and she’s a good girl. Forty days later some children found her body near a shack in Colonia Maytoprena. Her left hand rested on some guaco leaves. Due to the state of the body, the medical examiner was unable to determine the cause of death. One of the policemen present at the removal of the body, however, was able to identify the guaco plant. It’s good for mosquito bites, he said, crouching down and plucking some little green leaves, pointed and tough.” (375.)

Bolano 2666 quote of the week (6)

This week’s reading succeeds in showing, rather than telling, Bolano’s intentions regarding Santa Teresa. “The Part about Fate” grows darker, more labyrinthine, misogynistic, bigoted, befuddled, surreal, and violent as we follow Fate around city, to the fight and a bar-hopping and city-encircling drive that grows increasingly menacing until he leaves with Rosa.

The section, the novel, the story of the crimes are twisted, hidden, dark, and ignored in favor of bluster and ignorant banter, which makes the characters in this section almost unbearable. As Rosa Amalfitano notes, “they seem right, they seem authentic, but they’re actually full of shit” (327). Oscar Amalfitano recognizes this, just as he clearly recognizes his own descent into madness (332). Like Seale in Detroit, Chucho and the other men Fate talks with in Mexico present their existential theories based on nothing; they mislead and confuse and cloak, which leaves both Fate and the reader more and more distanced from the city’s reality.

The sense of Fate having landed on a Martian landscape is reinforced each time he calls New York and someone who doesn’t sound quite right deflects and avoids; when his editor refuses to hear him; when the voice seems a million miles away. This section, as with the others, is well written, expertly crafted, intriguing, and intelligent. But Hobbesian in the “nasty, brutish, and short” life way, with booze and beatings and drugs and sex and talking all taking on characteristics of being dirty and dangerous and heavy handed and curtained yet cartoonish. This section’s metaphor lies in El Rey del Taco; and in the fight arena where Fate can’t find who is calling him; and on the maze-like dark streets and the closed doors and the dreams that swirl in and out of waking.

The same foreboding that clings to the end of The Part about Amalfitano lingers at the end of Fate’s section…was the black car Amalfitano spied outside waiting for Rosa? Will Fate get her out of the city? And is that imprisoned suspect Archimboldi? Bolano has a Dickensonian facility with cliffhangers.

Quote of the section, I think, is:
“The tone, he thought, was solemn and defiant, the battle hymn of a lost war sung in the dark. In the solemnity there was only desperation and death, but in the defiance there was a hint of corrosive humor, a humor that existed only in relation to itself and in dreams, no matter whether the dreams were long or short. Sonoran jazz” (308).

Your reactions?

Bolano’s 2666 quote of the week (5)

Ah, “The Part about Fate.” I was pleased with the introduction to Quincy, and was ready to read on about him, but Bolano baited and switched for Oscar Fate, whom, I have to be honest, I almost loath. The man whose intimate moments open the section just doesn’t seem to be the same man whose nom de plume gives this chapter a sense of faux purpose. This meandering, lost chapter may be about Fate, but it doesn’t ring true about fate. And when I wasn’t careful, it drew me into some appalling dark corners that I’d rather shine a light on than hide in.

That Fate barfs through most of this week’s reading is pretty much spot on where I was in forcing myself to complete the section. “I don’t know, I don’t feel very well, if I felt better I’m sure I could figure it out,” (244). Clearly it’s not just me. Could be my fear of the next section, distaste aimed at a variety of things in my life while I read. But I think not. I think this section is overreaching and strikes chords that sing out “I’m supposed to be important or funny” instead of actually being insightful or funny.

Really, my first thought was, what does this Chilean author, who has been masterful with southern Arizona and northern Mexico (what I know of them, anyway), know about aging Black Panthers in Detroit? Yes, some people, particularly those in political and social movements, are caricatures. But seriously?
“As you all know, said Seaman, pork chops saved my life” (250). Seaman goes on to detail his nonsensical life philosophy and cholesterol-free recipes using relatively large amounts of butter in them. Funny if I’m in a good mood. Bordering on annoying stupidity if I’m not. The author, as always, is quite engaging. His characters and what they say, throughout this week’s section, are irritating.

Seaman’s half page on metaphors about stars is another example. If I were grading a stack of typical freshman English papers, this would strike me as hilarious because it does highlight how inane most humans are, especially while pontificating. As it is, I’m not teaching this semester and found Seaman’s totally asinine view of metaphors sad, trying, and indicative of a whole culture of bullshit. That is, of course, the point. American pseudo-intellectual, self-help, social change culture is bullshit. But that strikes way too close to home, and made me resent this week’s reading.

So, fine, I’ll bite. let’s travel with Fate to Mexico to see if humans are somehow more…human…there. The illogical diatribes south of the border, a few pages later, are just as lame and hollow and misinformed. Humanity is screwed because we’ll all too stupid to live, really, is what I got from the beginning of The Part about Fate. Chucho and Charly are just as reprehensible as Barry Seaman. Reinforcing this frothing aura of stupidity and human foibles writ large is the abhorrent sport of choice…boxing…in which humanity’s worst instincts and natures come out for a modern version of bear baiting.

So this section is rife with racism, misogyny, and bullshit. Great. Can I get back to Quincy Williams and his intimate moments after his mother’s death? Please?

So this week’s quote? All I have, really, is the second-hand assertion that
“There’s no place on earth with more dumb girls per square foot than a college in California” (288). As with everything else in this section, it’s so wrong and so offensive and so pinpoint accurate and so galling that I don’t know where to go except to agree. And that’s the pain of The Part about Fate. We’re led, unless we shake our head to clear it after every sentence, to believe and feel and watch bullshit of our own volition.

Glad I’m forcing myself to continue, because this is too small a section in a huge book to break me. But it’s trying.

Bolano’s 2666 quote of the week (4)

I’m not behind on my reading, but I certainly am on the blogging here and at bolanobolano.com, where they’re discussing 2666 over the course of 2666 hours.

[If what follows is derivative of the opinions blogged by the 2666 reading group, including our dear bleakonomy friend, so be it. I’m offering my first reaction and will go read their posts in a minute. i felt pretty lame last time offering a thin response to the richest sections only to find the other readers providing in-depth commentary, but such are the limitations of my life right now. I’m not writing a paper on this thing. I barely have time to read it.]

So. “The Part about Amalfitano.” Oh, my fair readers, I’m glad I made it to this section. *This* is why I agreed to tackle this novel with bits and parts of the erudite Infinite Summer group, and why magical realism is one of my favorite stylistic inclinations. This section leaves behind those self-absorbed critics and engages in the ponderous, the surreal, and the spooky. Hope the rest of the novel continues along this vein.

“For a second he thought it was all a lie, that Lola was working as an administrative assistant or secretary in some big company. Then he saw it clearly. he saw the vacuum cleaner parked between two rows of desks, saw the floor waxer like a cross between as mastiff and a pig sitting next to a plant, he say an enormous window through which the lights of Paris blinked, he saw Lola in the cleaning company’s smock, a worn blue smock, sitting writing the letter and maybe taking slow drags on a cigarette, he saw Lola’s fingers, Lola’s wrists, Lola’s blank eyes, he saw another Lola reflected in the quicksilver of the window, floating weightless in the skies of Paris, like a trick photograph that isn’t a trick, floating, floating pensively in the skies of Paris, weary, sending messages from the coldest iciest realm of passion” (182).

I don’t think I’ve read an author in a long time who writes scenery and visions and mirages as well as this.

But he’s awfully good at dialogue, as well, as in my favorite scene about the most awesome geometry-book weathering experiment:

“It isn’t mine, said Amalfitano. It doesn’t matter, Rosa said, it’s yours now. It’s funny, said Amalfitano, that’s how I should feel, but I really don’t have the sense it belongs to me, and anyway I’m almost sure I’m not doing it any harm. Well, pretend it’s mine and take it down, said Rosa, the neighbors are going to think you’re crazy. The neighbors who top their walls with broken glass? They don’t even know we exist, said Amalfitano, and they’re a thousand times crazier than me. no, not them, said Rosa, the other ones, the ones who can see exactly what’s going on in our yard. Have any of them bothered you? asked Amalfitano. No, said Rosa. Then it’s not a problem, said Amalfinato, it’s silly to worry about it when much worse things are happening in this city than a book being hung from a cord. Two wrongs don’t make a right, said Rosa, we’re not animals. Leave the book alone, pretend it doesn’t exist, forget about it, said Amalfitano, you’ve never been interested in geometry” (196).

The illogical nonsequitors in these characters’ dialogue, which read so logically, are my favorite part of this novel. And this passage has two nonsequitor retorts that honestly sound exactly the way people talk…just ludicrous.

This section was simply dreamy.