Tag Archives: Roberto Bolaño

Fairy of Fate

As my only answer, I let my head drop on his heart, as I had so often done in my dreams.
-María Luisa Bombal, House of Mist (53)

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What took place after that was unquestionably the most tragic experience any woman in love could have had to endure in all her life. (63)

Every morning among my emails a question of the day for SAT practice appears. I only have a couple of weeks left, I really need to practice the math but about three to one are grammar and vocabulary questions. My 17 year-old son and I will take the test together, which delights me and somewhat dulls the anticipated pain.

The other fun part of taking the test is the seemingly random literary references that appear in the grammar sections. Either a Roberto Bolaño reference is wildly inappropriate for teenagers, or perfect. I can’t quite decide.

One of the questions involved the Chilean author María Luisa Bombal. I was intrigued enough to hunt her down. It wasn’t effortless. The librarians I work for relieved me of some of my bottomless ignorance- where I had thought I was doing sweeping state-wide searches for books, I had in fact been trapped in a small consortium of libraries. I was so happy to discover this, that when I went back into the stacks, to finish the shelves I was meant to dust and “read” for accuracy of order, I put my headphones on and danced.

So, victory! I finally found Bombal in the U.S. Coast Guard library of all places. That’s the odd path that led me to this writer. I love an odd path.

“So Serena is engaged?” I inquired, just for the pleasure of repeating their sister’s lovely name.

What a wonderful detail – just for the pleasure of repeating.…. Initially I was unsure what to make of the child-like voice of the heroine, but it’s a beautifully fresh if odd voice. There is a sad mysteriousness at the heart of the tale, the first being how she could possible love the beastly Daniel. But even there I am sympathetic, the arrow of  love is a powerful force and does leave one a defenseless child of Eros. It’s cruel. The book is like a fairy tale – brutal, nostalgic, magical, with a child’s profound capacity for fear and passion.

The word “fairy” can be etymologically traced to the Latin  Fata, the Goddess of fate. Fate is a strange concept: whether or not we are resisting or yielding to something that is real is a plaguing question. Are we fated to be loved or unloved? It’s convenient to think so –it’s not me, it’s fate– is a salve on the heart of the miserable. Never the less, everyone knows fairy tales end happily. Everyone also knows that fairy tales don’t exist -except between the covers of the pages.

And it happened that in spite of myself, I was beginning to hear the precise working of this destructive rhythm hidden at the center of life.
Tic-tac! I could hear, out there in the abandoned tower, the books in the enormous library shriveling up, turning yellow, being blotted out, collapsing in rows…(74)

Life as a library is a favorite theme of mine. Here it is almost a metaphor for being an unloved woman. Bombal was known for writing stories about women who escaped their lives into a dream world ( according to the SATs). Her life took an extraordinarily odd path as well:  there was her suicide attempt, her near murder of one husband (probably had it coming as he didn’t share her love of literature), friendships with Neruda and Borges- is it any wonder that she keeps the story on half-footing in and about reality?

And that night I knew love…that love of which I had had only a glimpse through Daniel’s taciturn passion, the love that gives and receives…the love that is knowledge, exaltation, tenderness… (115)

I confess, I became absorbed in the story.  The orphaned heroine is quite lovely and grows on the reader. Like me, she roots for the love story, even when it is not her own. The Beauty and Beast heart of the tale is complicated by the loose boundaries of the mind. The heroine remains throughout the entire story pure in her love. It seems a fragile, childish thing, but the force of it is unrelenting.

Called La última niebla in Spanish, (which, correct me if I’m wrong, translates as The last mist) still, as a title, The House of Mist works, all fairy tales need a house –  the starting point of the collusion by collision of our inner and outer worlds that clouds our view and tangles the path.

For now, now I knew all was but a dream, life to me seemed no more than a long, dull, purposeless road along which in time I would become old and die without having known love (162)

A Master of Bastardy

Sin does not result if one’s natural action is undertaken. As nature ordained it. O son of Kunti! Natural action should not be discarded, even if it is tainted. Because all action is tainted, just as fire is shrouded by smoke. – Tarun J. Tejpal, The Story of My Assassins

There was a nagging feeling of nausea in the core of my body. I mentally ran through my litany of woes – not that, not that, not that either, no, that’s a constant font, same old same old –and then, I remembered the exquisite detail in the telling of a prison interrogation scene in the book I had put down an hour before: The Story of My Assassins.
Ah yes. That’s it.

The story is basically an Indian why done it. Of course, as my favorite character in the book, Hathi Ramji says repeatedly,

If we all began to ask why, there would be only a mountain of whys. (20)

Ramji is sent to protect the sorry life of a journalist who has survived an assassination attempt that he did not know was attempted. Through his inquiry into his near murder, Tejpal tells the story of lives lived at the lowest denominator with a brutality that would make Roberto Bolaño proud, and me nauseated.

I said, ‘It’s about my murder.’
He said, ‘That doesn’t matter.’ (505)

Because in the turmoil and shit storm of survival, it really doesn’t matter. In fact, “to fret was naïve.”  Why give yourself a stomachache? But I suppose I am naïve.

Interspersed between the brutalization of the lives of five children cum  future murderers, is the story of a man trying to decide whether or not to escape, or find, his humanity. His erotic escapades with his mistress are highly charged and very funny. His nonchalant perplexity, leans slightly north of charming, if he weren’t such a bastard. But then, Tejpal has a beautiful way with words and imagery.

He heard the sweet music of rain on a thatch roof amid wet green trees at the end of a world he could never again find. (340)

That line sent me dreaming…It’s a long and epic book that delves into the history of India, hearts of darkness, and a mountain of whys. Never the less, I wish the book had been two pages shorter. It is not that I wanted our protagonist to suffer, or be punished for his deplorable behavior to the people, especially the women, in his life – no, in a way I quite like him. But, even I am not so naïve to buy the note of processed redemption that ends his story. At least not in the way it is expressed.

Sometimes when I read a very long, intense book my head feels a sort of physical pressure of all the words swarming around. I am so immersed in the world of the writer that I can’t help the feeling of creeping intimacy between us. After 528 pages, we are friends now. I have my own way of seeing things, but I know what he meant in the end. And I agree.

All that each stumbling soul wished to know was that there was someone out there who would hear him, hear the story of his darkness, and punish or absolve him. (199)

*Title from line – “the man was a master of bastardy” (274)

Labyrinths of my Solitude

“I see that the pious Hsi P’êng persists in correcting my solitude”
The Garden of Forking Paths, Jorge Luis Borges

snow on moss labyrinth

As I mentioned, I am reading 2666 by Roberto Bolaño. It was a swell start, apart from the sore wrist I have from carrying the leviathan around.  Entertaining, fascinating characters, the incestuous world of academia, cynical reporters, police officers, and a half deranged professor all circling around a reclusive German writer and the horrific events in Santa Teresa, Mexico. A whole world of weirdness, weird enough to be highly likely.

And then there was part 4: The Part About The Crimes.
By the end of this nearly 300 hundred page section my jaw is tired from bearing down to get through it. I kept having this reoccurring thought as I read it – what would it have been like to have written this? At least my eye could occasionally skim the in-numerous rapes, body parts, rotting corpses, and chillingly placed shoe or panties. But when one writes, they are not afforded such a luxury. One is forced to linger on the words and imagery that pile up in heaps. It’s rough.
So when my philosophy teacher assigned us in his quasi-homeschooling-the-information-is-here-for-the-taking-if-you-are-interested-but-it’s-not-necessarily-anything-to-me-whether-you-are-or-you-are-not-it’s-your-own-mind-to-do-what-you-will-drink-horse-or-don’t way, a short story by Jorge Luis Borges – I did not need to be coaxed. Get me the hell out of Santa Teresa for 10 minutes PLEASE.

It took a little more than 10 minutes, not least of all because he did not give us the correct title. I am 99.3% certain he meant for us to read Fuñes the Memorious because it is on point to our in-class discussion. I am now completly transported into Borges Labyrinths. Furthermore, I can no longer see the point of a philosophy class without Borges being required reading. My professor seemed to suddenly come upon this idea yesterday as well, hence the impetuous assignment. But I could see designing a syllabus around these stories, they seem to me a sort of applied philosophical literature. The class might look something like:

Metaphysical primary conditions (what is real?): Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius
What is the mind?: Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote
Western Religious Thought: The Library of Babel
Free will: The Garden of Forking Paths
What is Intelligence?: Fuñes the Memorious

And so on…I’m sure someone has thought of this already and much more competently than I. But I would love to take such a class. Anyone who conceives of the universe as a library and man as an imperfect librarian is all right in my book. The complexity and beauty with which these stories are written is mind boggling and so far, only one murder and time spent if not correcting my solitude, (I given up on correcting that) at least correcting…something. Hopefully some of my more deleterious character traits are not yet beyond the reach of correction. Oh that’s right, I’ve given up on hope too. Damn. “As was natural, this inordinate hope was followed by an excessive depression.”*
Mr. Archimboldi*- I’m ready for you now.

* The Library of Babel, Borges
*Part 5, The Part About Archimboldi, 2666 Bolaño

The Blank Page

On ne fait pas d'omelette sans casser des œufs. Or gnocchi as the case may be....

As I turned the page to part 3 of 2666 (The Part About Fate) I thought back to when I used to wonder if my life would take on some sort of  stucture like a book. Would my story have parts, chapters, or would it be one long Anita Brookner novel. It was looking like the latter, but just when you think you’ve got a handle on a certain way of being, thinking, living, seeing, something happens and the rug is pulled out or pushed away.
That moment reading a book, when you turn the page and it’s blank, the next page says part___: That is where I am. I am in the whiteness. The blank page.

I spend an inordinate amount of time talking myself through the void. Just trying to get my mise en place on the counter so that I can get some plan or recipe going…but what do I want to make? I can get so involved in a conversation with myself that I don’t hear anything around me. I don’t think I talk to myself, but I do gesture to myself, which may be worse.

“if you’re worried that you’ve lost your mind, don’t worry, you haven’t, all you’re doing is having a casual conversation.” Roberto Bolaño 2666

Sometimes I do wish I would shut up however; be “etherised upon the table.” This may be why I really enjoy my (online) statistics class. With absolutely no previous indication of any sort of affinity toward maths, I find it quite relaxing. A break from myself. I don’t love math, I just like the hijacking of my brain. I’m internally confident in my other (on site) classes, but every time I speak or answer the questions in class my face burns. The only anxiety I have in statistics is in regard to our semester project whereby we have to do a statistical study of our choice. I have chosen to take a survey on the amount of books read by students at the college in the last 12 months; I don’t know what I was thinking because this will require that I actually have to talk to people, my fellow students, to collect the data. Shit. If only it wouldn’t be ridiculous to distract them from my awkwardness with a brownie or a bowl of gnocchi.