by Maria Bustillos
If I became somewhat quiet as our reading progressed, it’s not because I got lazy; it’s because the farther in we got, the more I realized I will be reading this book many, many times, because it rearranged so many of my comfortable ideas about political involvement, about human destiny, and the history of literature, and love relations, and how novels can be structured and written. I could go on with this list, but suffice it to say that this book rocked my little world like nothing since Infinite Jest, another book I have long shared with the brilliant Matt Bucher. So thank you, Matt, for including me in this wonderful project. I’ve enjoyed every moment.
One of the strangest things about the upshot of the book is that it ends on some quite conventional notes. For example, Reiter goes to Mexico for love of Lotte. So often the human relations in this book are vicious, brutal, murderous, but the way Lotte feels about Hans is utterly tender, and so finely described. I hadn’t expected it to end this way, after the Crimes, with an innocent woman in distress, and people coming to her rescue. Lotte is a “good guy” whose personal aims and ideas don’t include harming others or trying to take advantage of them in any way. There aren’t many such in this book, but others have stepped in to protect them more than once: Lalo Cura is rescued from the narcos, Rosa Amalfitano is rescued by Fate. The ones who do the rescuing are relatively impure themselves, maybe, but they recognize the innocence and protect it, champion it, it seems to me. Maybe that, too, is part of what is being said.
(An aside: one of Bolaño’s greatest achievements in this book is to render characters so believably in so many nationalities. We have British, Italian, German and Mexican characters, Americans, a Romanian, a Frenchman. I’ve traveled in most of these places, have certainly met representatives of each, and was just bowled over by the correctness in details of each case. I can’t think of a richer book, this way.)
I too will close with Fürst-Pückler-Eis. This is a real kind of ice cream, by the bye. (While I’m at it, I will add that I quite agree that ice cream is far better in spring and fall than it is in summer. As a quite keen cook myself, another thing I appreciate about the Bolaño, that nonstop polymath, is that he really knows his food, like many a good Latin American.) So here we have a highly accomplished man, Fürst-Pückler, whose subsequent fame rests entirely on the ice cream treat named after him. Isn’t that absurd? Okay, I submit that this last bit of reasoning applies also to two others. One, to Archimboldi, who loved Lotte and Ingeborg, who struggled in war and peace, who made a great and final sacrifice at the end of his long life—one which none of his fans will ever know a thing about—what is left of Archimboldi? Why his books, of course. They’re his ice cream, I think. They are good and satisfying, enjoyed by many, but they aren’t the man, they aren’t his life.
In fact books aren’t life; they seem like life, but they’re not. You may recall that the first paragraph of 2666 finds the nineteen-year-old Jean-Claude Pelletier reading d’Arsonval, Archimboldi’s French-themed novel, in Paris in 1980. How distant from the actual concerns of Reiter’s life can this scene be? But the book is so entertaining to Pelletier, so absorbing, so delightful, it really might as well be the ice cream with which the book ends. It seems we’re being told that this book, all these dreams within dreams of 2666, can’t really teach us a thing. We may enjoy them, but books can never be more than ice cream. (An odd thing to hear from a man whose whole life must have been a positive avalanche of books, but there you go.)
So: thank you very much, Sr. Bolaño, for the ice cream, which is absolutely first-class ice cream, and which I hope to enjoy (if that is the right word) many times in future.