by Maria Bustillos
The appearance of Klaus Haas produced an absolute brick wall for me in this book. Until now, I’d been able to enter into the narrative in a receptive frame of mind, just fluidly kind of taking it all in, but the incomprehensibility of this character stopped me cold. I’ve reread the jail passage several times (not a pleasant task, though an absorbing one) trying to get a grip on what is being said, here.
It doesn’t seem to me that anyone could survive being sodomized with a shiv? That’s one thing. But the fate of the victim is left unclear, so far as I can make out–I mean it is difficult and expensive to repair a lacerated colon and you might bleed to death pdq in a Mexican jail? So this guy is really violent, willing to kill, right from the outset. (Intelligence here welcomed.)
I had been operating under the assumption that the next time we run across any kind of a tall guero in Mexico, that person is going to be Archimboldi. But Haas is not, in fact, Archimboldi, because it turns out he’s only forty. What is the relationship then between these two tall Germanic blonds? I’m now guessing that they are blood relations, maybe? On the other hand, the internal landscape of Haas seems to feature no kind of reference to books or writing. I can’t really tell how educated Haas is but on balance the evidence is that he is smart but not literary, at least he’s not wallpapered on the inside with books the way most literary people are (including Amalfitano and the critics.)
Another point on Haas that struck me deeply. His mind works on these really grotesque lines, and I will not be surprised if he killed some of these girls. However, there is a freakish extra ingredient to the remarks and interior workings of Haas: they’re intensely poetic. His nightmares are full of Boschianly horrible and yet intense and painterly imagery. Also, he’s calling down in a kind of oracular way (as if he were the reverse of Florita Almada) the coming of an even worse evil than himself. His warnings spook even these seriously vicious men in the jail; they have almost the lurid smack of santeria.
As a final point: the events in this section are real in two senses. First, they are an imagined version of what has really been going on in Ciudad Juarez, events we’ve read about in real newspapers. Second, they’re real within the context of the novel; by this I mean, as we discussed earlier, the critics lived in a sort of bubble that real events of any kind just couldn’t seem to penetrate; they’re reading about the world rather than living in it. Good luck with that in Santa Teresa! Look what happened to Amalfitano … reality in all its bloody splendor is positively stalking him until (thank god!) Oscar Fate comes along and saves Rosa. Actually any kind of horrible thing could have happened to him afterward. We didn’t exactly leave him in good hands.
And now we’re in the belly of the beast, right? Are Archimboldi’s books so fascinating to the critics because they partake of reality, which is what we desire no matter how dangerous and terrible it is? Is this why the critics take their opportunity to beat up the Pakistani cab driver, when it comes, because all men are at bottom bloodthirsty, bestial creatures? And they sort of subsume their real nature in literature, and subsume as well any feeling of connection with or responsibility to real events, whether criminal, political etc? Are we also absolving ourselves of the claims of reality just by reading this book?