by Maria Bustillos
There’s a feeling of having arrived at a destination when the book begins to describe the crimes. I’d somehow gotten the impression, having read about 2666 off and on before I tried it myself, that this section was an even drier kind of catalogue, almost without narrative. It’s not really like that. There is a catalogue of murders here, and it’s as numbing as advertised, but here’s the thing. The layering-up and rewriting and twisted, doubled-over reportage mirrors Bolaño’s treatment of other phenomena like books and authors (some of the victims described being real ones, and others, I think, fictional, though I have not looked up every single victim, and perhaps all their names wouldn’t appear on the Internet? I should welcome intelligence on this point, if we’ve got any.) In any case, it appears that some of what is being described is real, and some not. The nature of 2666 invites us to investigate these things for ourselves, gets us thinking about how much of what we’re being told in other writings, other media, is likewise being distorted, exaggerated, invented or just left out completely.
Clearly, we’re meant to be numbed here before we are shocked into consciousness. The clinical nature of these multiple accounts deadens the attention, too, and deliberately so. This mirrors the way we are numbed and deadened by all the other real horrors we hear about every day, in faraway places we’ve never been like Baghdad and Mosul and Kabul, or even in places we may have been, like Washington D.C. or Fort Hood or New Orleans.
We might become so numb that we even miss the elusive patterns in the flood of similar horrors described in this novel; many but not all of the victims are tall, are young, have been multiply violated and strangled—but some have been stabbed, or not raped, and sometimes the perpetrator is caught, and turns out to have been involved with the victim for a long time. There is an evil truth underneath all these incoherent, jumbled accounts, however. A mass murderer who drives or is driven in a black Peregrino—I’ve never heard of such a make, and Google offers no enlightenment—but I guess it is the same one waiting outside Amalfitano’s house when Fate and Rosa make their escape.
I never met Lily Burk, the 17-year-old girl who was abducted and killed last summer here in Los Angeles, but she was an acquaintance of my daughter’s. This murder was more along the lines of a botched robbery; the murderer was a recently paroled drug addict who was found just a few hours after killing Lily, high as a kite, we heard, and in possession of her keys and other effects. Practically everyone I know has some connection with the Burk family through temple, school or work, and for many months we were all laser-focused on this disaster, talked about it constantly, read about it in the papers, learned everything we didn’t already know about the victim and her family. This is just one lovely child who was killed, the tenderly-raised daughter of a professional family, raised in an atmosphere where all the moms are very concerned together about such things as planning school fundraising events, and we also know how each kid is doing, because we’ve known them all since they were little, and we also have firm ideas about what the “in” appetizer is to bring to a party, and where the best Pilates studio is, and where to buy good dessert wine. All of which seems simply obscene, or crazy, or both, in the face of the unbelievable shit that goes on.
It will be impossible for any of the victims in Santa Teresa to receive anything like the kind of attention accorded to the murder of Lily Burk (for what that’s worth, if anything,) or for the perpetrator to be caught and put away so quickly (which is worth something.) The murder of a young girl doesn’t really shock anyone in Santa Teresa, because it happens once every few days. They’re even number than we are; they have to be. The community has no resources for preventing the next murder. At this stage of the novel, they haven’t really even figured out yet that there is a pattern; the police, even if they are willing, are operating in an absolute circus of disorder, corruption and mismanagement; they are powerless.
I am having a lot of trouble wrapping my head around the idea that this is a real thing, that it started in the early 90s, and that it’s still going on right this minute.