Monday, August 31, 2009

2666: The Part About the Crimes

As I learned about other cases, however, as I heard other voices, my rage began to assume what you might call mass stature, my rage, when it allowed itself to show, saw itself as the instrument of vengeance of thousands of victims. The voices I heard (voices, never faces or shapes) came from the desert. In the desert, I roamed with a knife in my hand. My face was reflected in the blade. I had white hair and sunken cheeks covered with tiny scars. Each scar was a little story that I tried and failed to recall.

Big Bang.

Kind of.

Emily said it best:
All along, I had assumed that the root of the wrongness, that intangible thing that was nightmarishly "off" in Santa Teresa, WAS the murders. I had subconsciously assumed that to see the crimes themselves would be to come face to face with the mysterious wrongness. . . The Part About the Crimes deconstructs this assumption in just about every way possible, and its first method is to remove the sense of mystery, of intangibility, as soon as the crimes are revealed. It's as if the reader has been walking down a long hallway, as Oscar does in The Part About Fate, with a mysterious, tinted light at the end of it. Perhaps there is some distorted music playing in the distance. The reader brushes away veils, distractions, grotesque strangers met in the corridor, and eventually reaches out her hand, pushing the door inward to reveal the mysterious contents of the room...and right at that moment, someone flicks on the switch. The light is no longer sickly green, but plain, everyday white. The occupants of the room are not a sinister pair of businessmen and a femme fatale, but a team of bored cops performing a routine investigation. One of the cops walks over and hits a button on a boom box, and the atmospheric music clicks off. Everything is factual, mundane, even tedious.
I was having major brain freeze. I couldn't think of what to say regarding "The Part About the Crimes" but Emily nailed it. The first three books of Roberto Bolaño's 2666 were dark in tone and oppressive in atmosphere, as though some immense force was being held back, only to burst forth in occasional sparks (racism, mental illness, the brutal beat-down of the obnoxious cab driver). It makes me think of back in elementary or middle school, when the teacher taught you about Gustav Freytag's theory on dramatic structure, known more commonly as simply "the parts of a story":

Exposition (setting the stage) → Rising Action → Climax → Falling Action → Resolution

Despite its connotations of something rushing quickly to a big, final bang, the "climax" does not occur at the end of the narrative but instead occurs when the rising action finally coalesces into something exciting/explosive/major/decisive. It is the culmination of everything that has emerged from the exposition to compose the rising action. It is the turning point in which sides are revealed and the Grand Battle is finally fought. It is often the most dramatic moment of the play, short story, or novel. It's like sex: attraction, arousal, climax, "coming down," afterglow. (Emily also had an interesting afternote on feminist literary theory and "male erotic practice" as the standard narrative form of detective fiction.)

So arguably, "The Part About the Crimes" is the climax. That repressed force darkening and influencing the overall work is finally brought to light. Body after murdered body. A veritable litany of raped, tortured, mutilated women. On and on and on. Previously, the characters had been reacting to a certain buzz in the air. Something off-kilter - rather like Thomas Glavinic's Night Work, in which Jonas, who had woken up to find himself the last man on earth, is hounded by mounting paranoia, finding an extra coat in his closet, an extra picture on the wall, and his shoes pointing toe-to-toe when he knows he didn't leave them like that last night.

Or in Faye Kellerman's Sanctuary, an actual crime/detective novel: Peter Decker, an LAPD homicide detective, walks into the silent, immaculate home of a missing family. He notices something decidedly off about the foyer. "The house was taking on the appearance of an Escher drawing - lots of steps leading nowhere." Then, after a moment of puzzling, he zooms in on the breakfront. Two figurines are displayed at what seems like an odd angle, different than how you'd expect most people to position them. A clue?

But enough with the hints. Now Bolaño's characters are dealing with something tangible. Something you can pin down and name: the mass murders of young, poor women in the Mexican border city of Santa Theresa.

Bolaño had had you following all these disparate characters, wondering what it all meany, where it was going to lead. If all this weird stuff would ever be explained or at least tied together. Violence was becoming increasingly overt. And yet . . . "The Part About the Crimes" reveals nothing that we haven't already been aware of. We knew there was something wrong in Santa Theresa. We already knew about the murders. "The Part About the Crimes" is simply more graphic and in-your-face than the rest of the 2666 has hitherto been. It says nothing about Archimboldi and only adds more mystery. Like, what's the deal with the black cars? (Are they like the American conspiracy theorist's beloved black helicopters?) Did that one missing woman really arrange orgies for druglords out in the desert? What's with the psychic? What about that sheriff from Arizona who went all vigilante deep in Mexico, searching for the missing American woman - what became of him? Is Haas guilty? Partially guilty?

Is he connected to Archimboldi or is it just coincidence that they're both German? Is Archimboldi guilty? What about Haas's info about the Uribe brothers? Does it all go back to them?

Bolaño's sure got a lot of wrapping-up to do for "The Part About Archimboldi."

Also check out:
Book 1: The Part About the Critics
Book 2: The Part About Amalfitano
Book 3: The Part About Fate

Other participants:
Claire at kiss a cloud
Emily at Evening All Afternoon
Jackie at Farm Lane Books Blog
Frances at Nonsuch Book
Gavin at Page247
Lu at Regular Rumination
Richard at Caravana de recuerdos (and parte dos, parte tres, parte cuatro, parte cinco - this guy is awesome)


Richard said...

Thanks for the undeserved compliment and the links at the end of your post, E.L. Fay, but the truth is that I was just so wowed by The Part About the Crimes that I haven't been able to stop writing about it yet. Anyway, I enjoyed reading your post as well--and am glad that you mentioned "mass murder" and "poor women" in the same sentence because the women's status as marginalized members of society is thought to have been one of the reasons why the real-life crimes didn't receive that much attention for so long. I agree that there would seem to be a lot to wrap up in the final part; however, Bolaño's famous for his open endings and for letting the reader sort things out on his/her own. Like you, I'm very intrigued to see where it all winds up!

claire said...

I feel the same way as you and Emily. Like a light switch was turned on. And am I relieved, as I don't think I could've waded in through the whole section if it were as horrific as I imagined.

Looking at the murders from a clear and realistic viewpoint made this section really effective for me. It was violent, yes, but never senseless.

claire said...

I'm quite intrigued how BolaNo wraps this up in the last part, too. Wonder what Archimboldi's connection to everything is.

I'm not sure if Haas is guilty, but he seems too sinister not to be, don't you think? The Uribe cousins are a possibility, or one of the possibilities, but I can't help thinking Enrique Hernandez has a big hand in all of it.

Frances said...

I do not think that it can or will ever be explained - the nature of this violence. Thinking that is his whole point - the baseness, cruelty and occasional brutality of life is pervasive and random. For this reason, I am trying not to have a huge expectation of resolution in book five. Insightful comments as always.

Emily said...

I'm glad someone else shared my experience of this part; it's so interesting to read the different reactions! Thanks for the mention. :-)

I think the narrative shift played an important role, in making the reader realize, as you point out, that we already knew about the crimes. So what were we waiting for? To be bludgeoned over the head with them? And then he obliges. I think this section had a lot to say about how we in Western/global society relate to violence-as-narrative...I'm still working out all my feelings about it, but it was definitely thought-provoking!

Gavin said...

I don't believe there will be any kind of resolution. I don't believe that was Bolano's intent.

Like Emily I think this section, actually the whole novel, has a lot to say about how western society relates to violence, how we choose to ignore it and how we ignore certain parts of that society.

This novel is certainly stirring up some interesting discussion!

farmlanebooks said...

I didn't enjoy reading this section at all, but I am very glad I am reading it at the same time as other people.

Reflecting on this section afterwards is actually far more important. Thinking about the way he has stalled the plot by listing the victims has improved my attitude to it. He has to be one of the most talented authors I have ever come across.

This book justs get better with every day I have to sit and think about it.

E. L. Fay said...

Farmlane - I agree. I got more out of reflecting on this section after I'd read it. Actually reading it, it felt kind of convoluted.

parrish lantern said...

What amazed me, was the utter mundanity in the description the crimes, like watching a conveyor belt of household goods go past, I found that hard to deal with. This section of the book was for me the hardest, just reading through murder upon murder ad infinitum left me feeling almost sordid & then the sheriff, who in my naivety I thought was going to rescue me from this dilemna,by doing what all good sheriffs do (catch the baddies) just vanishes!

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