Week 7: Big Black Car

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, medicine having read about 2666 off and on before I tried it myself, viagra 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.


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14 Responses to “Week 7: Big Black Car”


  • Comment from Aadam Aziz Ansari

    Seriously, great post. You articulated very well the impressions and feelings I got when reading this section, which up until now I could not put into words. I finished this book a few months ago, and the implications of your last sentence never really hit me until now.

  • Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by mattbucher: From @mariabustillos & The Part About The Crimes: Big Black Car #2666 #juarez http://www.bolanobolano.com/2010/03/10/big-black-car/

  • Comment from Maria Bustillos

    I hope you guys will comment on the foregoing because I am starting to think I’m alone in my views here (?) lol.

  • Comment from Pocket Shelley

    Your typical murder mystery this isn’t. Assiduous attention paid to clues will make you insane, not deliver you the name of the murderer three paragraphs before it is disclosed to the general readership. The corruption in Santa Teresa is spreading like a pool, or like a junkyard on the edge of the desert.

    Some of the victims — young girls, often with similar physical traits, who are raped and strangled — seem to be the victims a serial killer. But is it a league of serial killers? Can one do this alone? How many might be acting together? What kind of “society” would do such a thing? Is it related to the drug wars? Others of the killed women seem to be victims of their husbands or their boyfriends — violence really no less disturbing: A serial killer you can call a madman, but these are just dudes.

    Regarding the attempted murder of Pedro Rengifo’s wife around p. 396, am I alone in thinking that the person behind this was Rengifo himself? That Lalo Cura was chosen to be a bodyguard not because he seemed the toughest, but because he was the youngest. That the murder was supposed to succeed, and Lalo screwed it up by killing the assassins, including “Patricio Lopez, from the state judicial police” (who may have been acting in a quasi-official capacity, on instructions). After he saves Regifo’s wife, Lalo Cura is given no promotion or additional responsibilities. Basically, he’s put out to pasture, until Negrete recruits him for the police. P. 398: Rengifo: “He’s happy here.” Negrete: “but the way things are, one of these days he might get killed.”

    Compulsive, repetitive, serial killings. Crimes of passion, more accurately, crimes of outraged ego and contempt. Crimes by appointment, at the highest echelon of societies. None of it is funny, but it reminds me of an episode in one of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman books where somebody wanders into a hotel hosting a convention of serial killers. The marquee of the hotel says, “Welcome Cereal Convention!” It seems innocent enough, but everyone is a killer.

    Meanwhile, the unanswered question: is the giant in jail at the end of The Part About Fate really Archimboldi? Evidence would say yes. But then, evidence…

    I agree with Maria: I really felt in some way that we put our feet on the ground when this Section started. It’s full of hard information. Fewer dreams, fewer flights of fancy, fewer ambiguous speeches, fewer enigmatic proclamations about intellectual matters, less automatic writing. This is the parade of undodgeable facts. It’s the facts that are enigmatic, ambiguous, nightmarish: like that Gila monster sitting motionless on a black meteorite [399].

  • Fantastic comments, thank you. I’ll tell you what, I don’t ordinarily read books in a group but I am beyond relieved to be reading this one in such good and multifarious company. Not only because it’s such a dense, complicated book, but because what it’s saying really scares me.

    It’s kind of like the mysterious, dreamlike quality of the first sections describes the very ruses we use every day in order to deal with the impossibility of what we’re being told now.

    Michael, that’s a pretty great catch about the attempted murder foiled by Lalo Cura. There aren’t many guys trying to save women in Santa Teresa … I guess it would be crazy to try.

  • Comment from David Savarese

    I agree that we’re meant to be numbed before we are shocked into consciousness, and I think a comparison to violent media is well merited. I also agree that this points to an evil undercurrent in our world instead of a movie of the week that is wrapped up in a neat little bow. I don’t think there will be any resolution, as there is none in real life. I think Amalifitano would be too old to be the giant.

  • Comment from Trent Crable

    I haven’t lived in LA since 2000 and I’m not familiar with the Lily Burk murder, but the section did cause me to think of a young girl (age seven, I think) who was kidnapped from her bedroom, raped, and killed in San Diego when I was living there (2001 or 2002, I think was when it happened). I swear the entire city of San Diego was obsessed with that girl’s abduction (from a nice, usually very safe, upper-middle class neighborhood). The police went all out, like seriously all out. They caught the guy. The trial was all over the news–it was completely unavoidable. There was a serious push by people who wanted to have the killer’s lawyer disbarred for, as far as I could tell, doing nothing other than his job.

    Anyway. I mention it because I had the same thought that you had in relation to Lily Burk: the killings of girls and women of Santa Teresa can never get the same sort of attention.

    As for being consumed with seemingly trivial things–the hot items, the current hip meme, the best Pilates, or whatever–I kind of feel the same way. But I also think it’s inevitable and not all bad. It’s a defense mechanism of sorts, in a way. There’s a somewhat fine line that needs to be walked here. Care too much and you risk obsession, living in fear, risk of restrictions on freedom, despondency, etc, etc. Care too little, or be too overwhelmed to care enough, and you risk lawlessness or at least a denial of justice in cases where perhaps some sort of justice could be had. And so on. To relate this to my comments from last week (to Matt’s post): there’s a strong desire not to live in fear, even when there’s plenty to be scared off. We don’t want the bastards to get us down, at least not too much, as that’s handing them a victory of sorts.

    Anyway. I love your stuff Maria, both here and on Wallace-l. You’re awesome.

    • Comment from Maria Bustillos

      Thank you Trent, what a nice thing to say. And I absolutely LOVE your post. The victory is in knowing that there’s no right answer but still trying to find it; to bring as much positive into the world as you can even when you know it is trivial, but also not to go too crazy with the trivial. To try to make a difference even when you don’t think you will. In short, to walk the tightrope??

  • […] the initial jolt, it’s not as crudely executed as that. I want to highlight Paul’s and Maria’s takes on the start of this part, because my own reaction shares in both. Maria captures the […]

  • Comment from Alexis Bencomo

    Just on observation, the word Peregrino means Pilgrim in Spanish. From Wikipedia in Spanish: Un peregrino es un viajero que visita algún lugar sagrado, casi siempre por motivos religiosos.

    Translation: A pilgrim is a traveler who visits a religious place, almost always for religious motives.

    No doubt that this was on purpose.

  • Comment from Terrell Williamson

    Hope I’m not jumping in too late. I think Bolano’s success up to this point can be gauged by Maria’s post and the comments. For me, an important theme with which Bolano seems to be struggling is the existence of violence in all its mundane transfigurations. Bolano spent the first two sections showing us how the persons in our society who are supposed to be the most sensitive and concerned about the great issues of humanity, the intelligentsia, if you will, avoid the issue of violence. The Part about Fate gives us some more of that, but then shows one man’s imperfect attempt at confronting violence by taking action. Now that we are in The Part about the Crimes, it seems that Bolano intends to illustrate for us violence in all its guises, not in a titillating, fantastic manner, but rather in a clinical language striped of color and texture. The few details that Bolano gives us seem intent on casting the victim as a human being, without sentimentality. Bolano seems to be trying to avoid turning the victim into an object of our fascination or horror.

    Despite all of the characters’ previous attempts to avoid the issue of the persistence of violence in human society, in this part Bolano seems intent on illuminating all the various manner of violence humans continue to perpetuate against each other. At the end of The Part about Fate, Bolano seems to be struggling with what a human being at the end of the 20th century should do in the face of violence. Oscar Fate provides the reader with a very imperfect answer.

    Almost out the blue, it occurred to me that I owned another book (which I have not read completely) that struggles with the problem of violence: Rising Up and Rising Down, by William T. Vollmann. I only own the one volume condensed version of the book. If you aren’t familiar with Rising Up and Rising Down, Vollmann writes for seven volumes documenting violence throughout the history of humankind and attempts to develop a moral calculus about violence. I’d be interested if anyone who is familiar with Rising Up and Rising Down as any thoughts about Vollmann’s approach to the problem of violence compared to Bolano’s treatment thus far.

  • Comment from David Savarese

    I am surprised by the suggested que sera sera of our american distractions. I don’t think Bolano (based on his infrarealist manifesto), or most of the world, would support our living our lives as we do in the face of this violence. While I do think there is a debate concerning rampant consumption being the cause of these murders, I don’t think there is any excuse for our not working together to put an end to the continued atrocities in our world. I’m not saying send troops to mexico, but I do think the human agenda needs to be one that finds solutions so that everyone can live their lives in peace and safety. If trivial things prevent that, woe unto us. The critical question for me, right now, is if it can be done in the face of the modern world (irony, disillusionment, politics, corruption)?


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