Week 5: Vocabulary

by Meaghan Doyle

albinos

an organism exhibiting deficient pigmentation

amorphous

having no definite form : shapeless

archetypes

the original pattern or model of which all things of the same type are representations or copies

chaise

a long reclining chair

climacteric

critical, approved crucial

coyote

A person who smuggles immigrants into America and they come from any given country for a small fee to cross into the United States

flacking

providing publicity

garb

outward form

jig

black (usually offensive)

mesa

an isolated relatively flat-topped natural elevation usually more extensive than a butte and less extensive than a plateau

mestizos

a person of mixed blood; specifically : a person of mixed European and American Indian or native Mexican ancestry

mise-en-scene

the physical setting of an action

mongrel

an individual resulting from the interbreeding of diverse breeds or strains

Morphology

a branch of biology that deals with the form and structure of animals and plants

penitence

sorrow for sins or faults

pollero

A very hated and notorious person that smuggles Mexicans into the United States of America. Pollero literally means chicken herder

pulqueria

a place that serves Pulque, a milk-colored, somewhat viscous alcoholic beverage made from the fermented sap of the maguey plant

semblance

a phantasmal form : apparition

tramps

vagrant

tumult

disorderly agitation or milling about of a crowd usually with uproar and confusion of voices

Week 5: Characters

by Brooks Williams

Quincy Williams (“Oscar Fate”)

Reporter for Black Dawn magazine in New York (242).  He has some kind of stomach trouble (243).  At work he receives a call that his mother, discount Edna Miller, health has died (231).  He is sent to Detroit to do a profile on Barry Seaman and attends Seaman’s sermon (243, help 246).  He is sent to Santa Teresa in Mexico to cover the fight between Count Pickett and Merolino Fernández (262).  Once in Mexico he joins a caravan of Mexican reporters to Merolino Fernández’s ranch outside of Santa Teresa (275).  Goes out to a bar with Chucho Flores where he meets Charly Cruz and Rosa Méndez (278-279).

Barry Seaman

A founder of the Black Panthers with Marius Newell.  Did time in prison.  Author of Eating Ribs with Barry Seaman (244).  Gives a sermon on Danger, Money, Food, Stars and Usefulness (246-256).

Antonio Ulises Jones

The last Communist in Brooklyn.  He is called Scottsboro Boy by the local kids (259).  Fate interviews him for his first piece for Black Dawn magazine.  Gives Fate a copy of The Slave Trade (260).

Count Pickett

A Harlem light heavyweight boxer (262).  He is fighting Merolino Fernández in Santa Teresa (272).

Albert Kessler

An old, white-haired man at the diner outside of Tuscon.  Kessler is talking to a young man named Edward about the murders in Santa Teresa (267). Kessler has caught someone named Jurevich in association with the murders (265).  Kessler is returning to Santa Teresa after a few years absence.

Lino (“El Merolino”) Fernández

Mexican boxer who will be fighting Count Pickett in Santa Teresa (272).

Omar Abdul

Another of Merolino Fernández’s sparring partners.  Black American from California (275).  Twenty-two years old (276).

Chucho Flores

A reporter covering the Fernández/Pickett fight.  He and Fate go to a bar after the press event at the Fernández event and meet Charly Cruz and Rosa Méndez (278-279).

Charly Cruz

Friend of Chucho Flores. Owns three video stores (279).  Tells Fate the story of Robert Rodrigez’s first film (280-281).

Rosa Méndez

She has dated both Charly Cruz and Chucho Flores.


Minor Characters

Edna Miller

Oscar Fate’s mother.  Her death opens The Part About Fate (231).

Mr. Tremayne

Works for the funeral home where Edna Miller’s funeral is held (233).

Mr. Lawrence

Works for the funeral home where Edna Miller’s funeral is held.  Mr. Lawrence coordinates the funeral with Fate (233).

Miss Holly

Edna Miller’s neighbor.  Has a heart attack while calling Fate to inform him that his mother is dead (231).

Jimmy Lowell

Formerly covered boxing for Black Dawn.  Is killed outside of Chicago (235).

Rosalind

Miss Holly’s daughter.  Fate meets her when he visits Miss Holly’s body (238).

Marius Newell

A co-founder of the Black Panthers with Barry Seaman (245).  Probably based on Huey Newton. He’s dead (247).

Anne Jordan Newell

Marius Newell’s mother.

Ronald K. Foster

Reverend at the church were Barry Seaman gives his speech (246).

Dick Medina

Chicano television reporter that Fate sees on TV while in Detroit.  Medina is reporting on the murders in Santa Teresa (258).

Jeff Roberts

Sports Editor at Black Dawn.  Sends Fate to Mexico to cover Count Pickett (262).

Víctor García

One of Merolino Fernández’s sparring partner.  He has an unsettling tattoo on his back (274).

López

Merolino Fernández’s manager (275).

Angel Martínez Mesa

Mexican reporter covering the Fernández/Pickett fight.  An older man who appears to be Chucho Flores’s mentor.  Fate has dinner with him and Flores (278).

Mr. Sol

Pickett’s manager.  Takes questions at Pickett’s press event (285).

Ralph

Report at Pickett’s press event.  Asks if Pickett has brought any women with him to Santa Teresa (285).

Chuck Campbell

Report for Sports Magazine.  Speaks to Fate in a bar before the Fernández/Pickett fight.  Explains that he knew Jimmy Lowell.

Fictional Character References

Sebastian D’Onofrio (246)
Jesse Brentwood (284)
Hércules Carreño (287)
Arthur Ashley (“The Sadist”) (287)

p251
Mao Zedong (1893 – 1976) – Chinese Communist leader and the first Chairman of the Communist Part of China.
Lin Piao (1907 – 1971) – Chinese Communist military leader and member of the PLO.  Helped put Mao Zedong in power but later attempted to overthrow Mao.
Henry Kissinger (1923 – ) – German-born American political scientist and diplomat.  Served under Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford as National Security Advisor and Secretary of State.  Recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973.
Richard Nixon (1913 – 1994) – American President  (1953-1961).
p256
Voltaire (1694-1778) – French enlightenment writer and philosopher.

p260

Hugh Thomas (1931 – ) – British Historian.  The author of The Slave Trade: The Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1440-1870

p263

John Newton (1725 – 1807) –  English clergyman in the Anglican church.  Former slave-trader, later became an abolitionist with the publication of the pamphlet “Thoughts Upon the Slave Trade”.  Wrote the hymn “Amazing Grace”.

p280

Spike Lee (1957 – ) – African-American filmmaker.
Woody Allen (1935 – ) – American filmmaker.
Robert Rodriguez (1968 – ) – American filmmaker.

Week 5: Deaths

by Michael Cooler

In trying to make a numbered list of deaths in 2666, discount it quickly became apparent that it was not very apparent which deaths should “count” in a numbered list and which deaths should not.  For example, dosage the first two on the list.  We chose to give numbers one and two to the two women kidnapped on their way out of the club in Santa Teresa where Espinoza and Rebeca later find themselves dancing in The Part About the Critics.  But should they be numbered? They don’t actually “die” in this part of the book, this but their story still seems important and worth mentioning.  And what if these same two women turn up later in The Part About the Crimes, maybe with names and more of their story, and we’ve counted them twice? So, we’ve decided to do two separate lists of deaths in the novel, one for the women killed in The Part About the Crimes and one for the rest of the book. The list of people who die or are killed in the rest of the book will be more flexible, looser, not as precise. But hopefully the list for the women killed in The Part About the Crimes will be more precise, since they are all part of a very specific phenomenon in northern Mexico called the feminicidios, or the femicides (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Female_homicides_in_Ciudad_Ju%C3%A1rez). In the end we can tally the count from both lists or not, whatever seems most useful.

Death # — Page — Name — Age — Date of Discovery — Description — Extra Details

1, 2 — p.151 — Two girls were kidnapped on their way out of the club (at some point in the past) where Espinoza and Rebeca are dancing, their bodies dumped in the desert.
3 — p.202 — While Amalfitano dreams of Lola and dusty philosophy books, “the Santa Teresa police found the body of another teenage girl, half buried in a vacant lot in one of the neighborhoods on the edge of the city.”
4 — p.231 — Edna Miller — Mother of Quincy Williams, or Oscar Fate.  Oscar is 30 years old and thinks his mother is in hell.
5 — p.235 — Jimmy Lowell — 55 or 60 years old — Chief boxing correspondent for Black Dawn, the magazine where Oscar Fate works. He is stabbed to death by black men in Chicago.
6 — p.238 — Edna Miller’s neighbor — Dies presumably from the heart attack on p.231 following the death of Edna Miller. Her daughter Rosalind says with a smile “She was old.”
7 — p.247 — Marius Newell — Killed by a black man in Santa Cruz, supposedly because Newell owed money, but Barry Seaman (friend and fellow co-founder of the Black Panthers) suspects foul play.
8 — p.251 — Lin Piao — A Chinese Communist military leader, killed in a plane crash.
9, 10, 11 — p.266 — A knife sharpener kills his wife and elderly mother in 1871 during the Paris Commune, and is himself shot and killed by police. The story is big news while the thousands killed in the Commune are mostly ignored. The white-haired man in the restaurant says “The ones killed in the Commune weren’t part of society, the dark-skinned people who died on the ship weren’t part of society.” Likewise the women who will turn up dead in The Part About the Crimes are dark-skinned, often immigrants to Mexico themselves, and are arguably not part of society.

Other mentions of death in pages 231-290:

p.245 — “Seaman said he didn’t like rap because the only out it offered was suicide. But not even meaningful suicide. I know, I know, he said. It’s hard to imagine meaningful suicide. It isn’t a common thing. Although I’ve seen or been near two meaningful suicides. At least I think I have. I could be wrong, he said.” Anyone have any thoughts on meaningful suicide?

p.251 — Barry Seaman recounts how his sister helps him write down recipes for a cookbook and then refers to her as his late sister.  Says of her (on p.250) “my sister, who was the world’s most good-hearted human being.”

p.253 — The starfish that Marius Newell finds on a beach in California dies.  He brings it home and cares for it and tries to steal a pump for the tank he keeps it in, but to no avail.  It ends up in the trash. But I get the feeling that this was one important starfish.

p.258 — A girl from a town in Arizona disappears (is not necessarily dead) in Santa Teresa, as told by the TV reporter Dick Medina. Fate is asleep while the segment runs, like Amalfitano who dreams while police discover bodies in Santa Teresa.

p.260 — Oscar Fate dreams of a man he’d interviewed once named Antonio Ulises Jones, who tells the tale of the diminishing number of communists in Brooklyn, saying “During the eighties, two of the four who were left died of cancer and one vanished without saying anything to anyone.”

p.263 — Oscar Fate mentions that Antonio Jones has “been dead for several years now.”  He guesses he might have died from old age. “One day, walking down some street in Brooklyn, Antonio Jones had felt tired, sat down on the sidewalk, and a second later stopped existing.”

p.265-267 — A white-haired man in the restaurant (Professor Kessler) is speaking to a young man, and the white-haired man says some very interesting things about death. “We didn’t want death in the home, or in our dreams and fantasies, and yet it was a fact that terrible crimes were committed, mutilations, all kinds of rape, even serial killings.” He goes on to say how twenty percent of the slaves died in ships en route to their destination, and how that didn’t much bother anyone. I think we could kind of say the same thing about the women being killed in Mexico. In some way we accept or ignore the horrible truth of the situation, because we don’t have an answer for it.  If only there were just one serial killer, and we could imagine an end to the murders coming with the serial killer being caught.  But if the murders are part of a larger system — an inescapable new system of globalization and fluid borders, where drugs and wealth and weapons change hands rapidly, where police and politicians and narcotraficantes are all implicated, and ourselves too — things get murky.  No easy answers. I think this is the abyss that Bolaño is asking us to stare into, or dive into.

p.271 — “A voice in Spanish began to tell the story of a singer from Gómez Palacio who had returned to his city in the state of Durango just to commit suicide.”

p.287 — Fate is talking to Chucho Flores and asks how many women have been killed. Chucho says “Lots, more than two hundred.”  Fate comments that it seems like one person could not have killed that many, and Chucho agrees, but it doesn’t appear that he has given it much thought. When I read this I think I’m struck by the fact that maybe I haven’t thought much about it either.  Of course, Santa Teresa (Ciudad Juárez) is a little ways from Oregon, but if the crimes were being committed in my hometown, would I think about them then? Or would I become a cinephile like Charly Cruz, or bury myself in a book? This reminds me of a feeling I had while watching a movie called City of God, about a slum in Rio de Janeiro. I couldn’t believe this was based on a real place, which felt so different from my known universe. Santa Teresa feels like this too.

p.289 — Hércules Carreño, who is a Mexican heavyweight boxer, is beat to hell in Los Angeles by a boxer named Arthur Ashley. He was a sensation in Mexico until he lost this fight, could no longer hold jobs due to the severity of his injuries, and was forgotten. “They say he started to beg on the streets and that one day he died under a bridge.”

Week 5: Locations

by Sara Corona Goldstein

Paradise City, clinic Chicago – Jimmy Lowell, page the chief boxing correspondent for Black Dawn dies here. (p. 235)

New York City – Qunicy Williams (Oscar Fate) lives here. (p. 239)

Detriot – Fate travels here to interview Barry Seaman. (p. 239)

Jackson Tree, Michigan – two passengers on Fate’s flight to Detriot tell a story about a man named Bobby who capsized his fishing boat here, nearly freezing to death. (p. 240)

Athens, South Carolina – the bartender at Pete’s Bar in Detriot fought his last fight here. (p. 242)

Rebecca Holmes Park, Detriot – Fate and Seaman walk through his park before going into the church where Seaman gives his sermon. (p. 245)

Los Angeles, California – Seaman spent his childhood here. (p. 246)

Algeria; China – Seaman traveled here in his youth with the Black Panthers. (p. 247)

Santa Cruz, California – Marius Newell was killed here. (p. 247)

Folsom, Soledad, and Walla-Walla prisons – Seaman spent time here, trading cigarettes. (p. 249)

New York – Seaman goes here to get his cooking/history book published. (p. 251)

Route 80, between Des Moines and Lincoln – Seaman talks about seeing stars here. (p. 252)

Santa Teresa – an American disappears here, as reported by Dick Medina while Fate sleeps. (p. 258)

Brooklyn – Antonio Ulises Jones, the last Communist in Brooklyn, lives here. He is Fate’s first published story for Black Dawn. (p. 258)

Woodward Avenue, Detriot – Fate buys The Slave Trade by Hugh Thomas here; drinks some tea. (p. 261)

Tucson, Arizona – Fate flies here on his way to Santa Teresa to cover Count Pickett’s boxing match. (p. 263)

The Southwest coast of Africa; Corisco; Elmina (a Portuguese fort on the Gold Coast) – all places mentioned on page 361 of The Slave Trade by Hugh Thomas. (p. 263)

Cochise’s Corner – the restaurant where Fate eats on his way to the Mexican border. It is either three hours or an hour and a half away from Santa Teresa. (p. 264)

Patagonia; Adobe – towns Fate passes through on his way to the Mexican border. (pp. 270, 271)

Las Brisas – the motel in the northern part of Santa Teresa where Fate stays. (p. 272)

Arena del Norte boxing stadium – the stadium where the fight between Count Pickett and El Merolino Fernández will be held. (p. 272)

Hotel Sonora Resort – the hotel where most of the reporters are staying in Santa Teresa. (p. 273)

A ranch on the egde of Santa Teresa – El Merolino set up camp here before the fight. (p. 274)

Oceanside, California – Omar Abdul is from here. (p. 275)

Mexico City – Charly Cruz tells a story about Robert Rodriguez, who makes his first movie while living here in a whorehouse with El Perno, a pimp. (p. 280)

A ranch outside Las Vegas – Count Pickett is probably staying here before the fight. (p. 283)

Los Angeles, California – Hércules Carreño fights his last fight here, against Arthur Ashley. Carreño barely makes it to the eighth round and Ashley earns his nickmname, The Sadist. (p. 288)

Chicago – Chuck Campbell works for Sport Magazine here. (p. 289)

Week 5: Some Tidbits

Page 267: In Arizona, ask Fate overhears a conversation between a young man and someone identified as “Professor Kessler.” The first time Kessler is mentioned in the novel is actually back in the Part About the Critics. Amalfitano takes Espinoza and Pelletier to a bar in Santa Teresa and the two critics overhear a conversation between several students. Page 138: “Someone, one of the boys, talked about a murder epidemic. Someone said something about the copycat effect. Someone spoke the name Albert Kessler.”

On his way into Santa Teresa, Oscar Fate sees two different omens. Page 270: “The horse was black and after a moment it moved and vanished into the dark.” Page 272: “They’re turkey buzzards, they’re always cold at this time of night.” In the book of Revelation, seven seals are opened by the Lion of Judah, each portending a deepening of the end times. The third seal is a black horse whose rider holds scales. This is the third horseman of the Apocalypse. The black horse brings drought and famine. This famine also indicates poverty—a poor people headed for death (the pale horse, the fourth horseman).

Ijustreadaboutthat has a great summary of this section of the novel. Highly recommended.

Week 5: Seaman

As David points out in the comments of the previous post, this web in his Q&A, order Lorin Stein mentioned that he and the translator of 2666, remedy Natasha Wimmer, discussed “Father Mapple’s sermon in Moby-Dick as a precursor to Barry Seaman’s motivational speech.”

In Moby-Dick, Ishmael visits this church in Nantucket before he sets sail in pursuit of the great white whale. Father Mapple delivers this sermon about Jonah and the whale from high atop a pulpit (a pulpit that resembles the crow’s nest of a ship). This sermon is a sort of warning to Ishamael before he ventures forth into the great unknown in pursuit of a wetter life. Oscar Fate doesn’t realize that Barry Seaman is preaching to him about his trip into the great unknown of Mexican horror, but he is.

Father Mapple preaches the story of Jonah and the whale. In the story, God orders Jonah to go to the wicked city of Nineveh, but Jonah follows his own path and heads toward Joppa. In the boat on the way there, the other sailors realize the horrible weather is caused by Jonah’s disobedience. They throw him overboard where he is swallowed by a large fish. He lives in the belly of the whale three days and nights before repenting and being vomited up by the fish. Jonah travels to Nineveh and prophesies that God will destroy the town in 40 days. I’m tempted to quote Mapple’s whole sermon, but here is the heart of it:

Delight is to him whose strong arms yet support him, when the ship of this base treacherous world has gone down beneath him. Delight is to him, who gives no quarter in the truth, and kills, burns, and destroys all sin though he pluck it out from under the robes of Senators and Judges. Delight,- top-gallant delight is to him, who acknowledges no law or lord, but the Lord his God, and is only a patriot to heaven. Delight is to him, whom all the waves of the billows of the seas of the boisterous mob can never shake from this sure Keel of the Ages. And eternal delight and deliciousness will be his, who coming to lay him down, can say with his final breath- O Father!- chiefly known to me by Thy rod- mortal or immortal, here I die. I have striven to be Thine, more than to be this world’s, or mine own. Yet this is nothing: I leave eternity to Thee; for what is man that he should live out the lifetime of his God?

Santa Teresa (or is it Detroit?) is the modern-day Nineveh—a city of wickedness, where death lurks in the shadows. Oscar Fate is sent (by his editor at Black Dawn) to the Sonoran city. Unlike Jonah, Fate willing travels there, but he remains a reluctant prophet.

The “Sea-man” (ha ha, semen, lol, etc.) tells a story about DANGER and his Black Panther cofounder Marius Newell growing up in California. He says that Newell was killed in Santa Cruz, “And the only reason I can think of why Marius was in Santa Cruz is the ocean. Marius went to see the Pacific Ocean, went to smell it. . . . I see him on the beach in California. A beach in Big Sur, maybe, or in Monterey north of Fisherman’s Wharf, up Highway 1.” [FWIW, both of those places have highly literary associations in my mind. Big Sur & Jack Kerouac, and Monterey & John Steinbeck.] He goes on:

He’s standing at a lookout point, looking away. It’s winter, off-season. The Panthers are young, none of us even twenty-five. We’re all armed, but we’ve left our weapons in the car, and you can see the deep dissatisfaction on our faces. The sea roars. Then I go up to Marius and I say let’s get out of here now. And at that moment Marius turns and he looks at me. He’s smiling. He’s beyond it all. And he waves his hand toward the sea, because he’s incapable of expressing what he feels in words. And then I’m afraid, even though it’s my brother there beside me, and I think: the danger is the sea.

I believe this is crucial—not just to the Seaman-Mapple nexus or to Fate/Jonah, but to the overall scope of the novel. The faceless, nameless sea lurks and looms—dangerous. Paradoxically, the evil that in habits Santa Teresa is faceless and nameless. They both exist in a danger that is difficult to even describe—Marius can’t express his feelings in words. Words fail Amalfitano, the desert saps the language out of the critics. Where does that leave Oscar Fate?

Week 5: Dreams

by Daryl L.L. Houston

231: Fate mentions something about a nightmare and a “dark, ask vaguely familiar Aztec lake.”

234: Fate thinks he’s dreamed (he doesn’t know it?) about a movie he had recently seen, but with everything switched. The dream was like a negative of the real movie he had seen because the characters were black rather than (one presumes) white. During the dream, with its differences, he realizes that the differences might render the dream a “reasoned critique” of the movie he had actually seen.

248: Seaman tells of Marius Newell’s dream in which he was breathing the Pacific beach air, which he loved.

250: Seaman describes the landscape he discovered after getting out of prison as “the smoldering remains of a nightmare we had plunged into as youths and that as grown men we were leaving behind.”

252: Seaman says that stars are semblances in the same way dreams are semblances.

263: Fate dreams of Antonio Jones. It’s not clear from the text what the dream was actually about, though since Fate is contemplating at the time the (unknown to him) circumstances of Jones’s death and the probability that he died of old age, perhaps we can conclude that the dream pertained to that topic.

270: Driving into Mexico, Fate recalls a dream, from when he was between childhood and adolescence, of a landscape similar to the one before him. He was on a bus with his mother and aunt watching an unchanging city landscape until they finally get to the country. There he sees a man walking along the edge of a wood in what for Fate at the time of the dream is distressing loneliness.

Week 5: Now We’re Cookin’

by Maria Bustillos

Barry Seaman is a reimagining of Bobby Seale, nurse who founded the Black Panthers with Huey Newton.  There are significant breaks with the real story; for example, salve Newton was murdered in Oakland, not in Santa Cruz.  I don’t really know enough Panther history to compare point by point, but I have just ordered a copy of the real book, Barbeque’n with Bobby (pub. 1988.)

This is the second author we’ve met who brought himself back to reality by writing a cookbook; the first, as you will recall, was Sor Juana.  Another fighter for freedom, and also another oppressed person.  Another incarcerated person, you might say; Sor Juana in a convent, and Bobby Seale in a conventional jail.  My understanding is that both of these cookbooks are very highly regarded qua cookbooks, that is to say, they are the work of serious cooks, not just some kind of literary joke, in either case.  I sympathize greatly with this view of the world.  Preparing and eating food really does bring people back to reality.  It restores perspective.

The underlying message I’m seeing so far in this book is:  art and literature can be made to liberate us, and to show us reality in its true colors, but we’ve built up a million dodges to prevent this from happening.  In The Part About the Critics, the murders in Santa Teresa are completely abstract to the critics, whose concerns are almost entirely selfish, personal; the reality of the crimes is totally distant from them, even when they get to Mexico, until they begin to make contact with Amalfitano.  I think that Bolaño is saying is, what they really ought to be doing, what we all really ought to be doing, is concentrating with all our hearts on the fact of these murders, and doing something about it.  It bears thinking about that traditionally in Latin America, poets and writers have been activists as a matter of course–sometimes, even revolutionaries.  And that is going back to the likes of José Martí. What else could possibly be more important than preventing all these atrocities? Intellectuals in Spain and Latin America see themselves as having a political destiny in a way that we don’t seem to, here in the States. Of course quite a number of them have gotten themselves thrown in jail or even shot, for their pains. Which is a subject for another day.

Amalfitano, getting back to the story, is a little closer to reality than are the critics.  He has been kind of immune to all this blathering about Archimboldi, even though he is a professor of literature.  This is because the dodges of the academy aren’t working, here in Santa Teresa.  Reality is getting harder to ignore, for him.

And now we come to Oscar Fate, who is making the move toward reality, not away from it.  Barry Seaman, or Bobby Seale, is very close indeed to the workings of reality.  Dedicated his life, in however flawed a manner, to redressing the wrongs of the world, in the approved manner of a Latin American intellectual.  Bobby Seale’s political activities were questionable, I believe … are we hearing a Latin American revolutionary who is giving a man like Seale too much the benefit of the doubt, I wonder?  Seale renounced violence, in the end.  His books are said to be worthy.  I will start with the cookbook.

Week 5: pages 231-290

The Part About Fate

Before officially moving away from Amalfitano’s section, rx we have a couple of pieces of unfinished business that will be posted today. Below is a recap and a few questions about the first part of this week’s reading (up until Fate goes to Mexico). A lot of people hate this section or call it their least favorite in the novel. After the critics and Amalfitano, thumb Bolaño throws a complete curveball with this section. What to make of it? Did it make you want to put the book down? I’ve heard people say that about The Part About the Crimes, but I know that Fate is not the most likable character. Here is Naptime Writing‘s take on this Part.

On the first few pages we get a short story about Quincy Williams and his mother dying. And then suddenly a paragraph opens “At work everybody called him Oscar Fate.” What? And then we get another 24 pages of Fate in Detroit with Barry Seaman before we get any connection at all to Sonora or Mexico or the previous plotlines of the novel. But Oscar “Fate”, really? Isn’t that a bit like naming your love interest Jane Love? I wonder if it’s not some sort of double-reverse red herring that doesn’t refer to fate per se, but rather something like Fatima prayers or the Fates of Greek myth or some specific philosopher of fatalism, just because Bolaño is sneaky like that. But Bolaño does seem to have a fascination with Greek mythology: “The Greeks, you might say, invented evil” (p. 266).

Barry Seaman preaches from the pulpit on five topics:

DANGER

MONEY

FOOD

STARS

USEFULNESS

He recites whole recipes verbatim. He talks in extended metaphors. In fact, I think mostly Bolaño is using the characters and situations in this section as metaphors for the scenario in Mexico, reflections of the same mirror. Mentions of money and poverty grapple with some of the root causes of the horror in the Sonoran desert. When Antonio Jones (Scottsboro Boy) tells fate that “poverty didn’t cause only illness and resentment, it caused bad temper,” it recalls the poverty of the Mexican factory workers or Rebeca selling rugs in the market, surrounded by poor macho men, certainly some with bad tempers. (And yet the upper class Marco Antonio Guerra is the “ticking time bomb”, constantly exploring the limits of his temper, his violence, feeling stifled by the atmosphere around him.) The poor of Detroit are no different than the poor of Santa Teresa.

Antonio Jones’ full name is Antonio Ulises Jones. For readers of The Savage Detectives, I wonder if your ears perked up at the sight of that word on the page. Ulises Lima.

Page 245: “How does rap lead to suicide?” asked Fate.

Page 249: I had to circle this beautiful line:

And he waves his hand toward the sea, because he’s incapable of expressing what he feels in words. And then I’m afraid, even though it’s my brother there beside me, and I think: the danger is the sea.

Page 254: Seaman’s talk about how nobody smiles anymore and everyone is just trying to sell you something reminded me of David Foster Wallace and the attempt at a new sincerity in American fiction. “They want us to look at them, that’s all” sounds as much like a rebuke of Twitter, Facebook, and oversharing bloggers as it does of smiling.




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