Week 11: The Part About the Crimes concludes

I know that many people are glad to see this part end.

When I first read this part of the novel, I felt like it needed to be cataloged in some way. We’re doing that here with tracking all of the deaths and all of the dreams and whatnot, but I have been more detached from this part this time around and I am way behind on even posting a weekly summary of what happened in the novel. Apologies. Part of what confounds me is that there is just so much data to process I find it hard to dig in without either seeming like some grand, bird’s-eye-view of the world or transitioning quickly back and forth between topics and ideas (see tidbits previously and below).

As I’ve mentioned several times, there is a correlation between the femicides and the Holocaust. I believe that Bolaño’s motivation in writing this Part and this novel is not to exploit these murders for their shock value or because he loves describing horrific violence against women. I see no pleasure here. By describing over a hundred cases in some detail, I believe he is trying to honor them in some way. A belief that each life is important motivates many Holocaust works (fiction and nonfiction). Israel’s official memorial to the Holocaust is called Yad Vashem—which comes from the Bible verse “And to them will I give in my house and within my walls a memorial and a name (Yad Vashem) that shall not be cut off.” (Isaiah, chapter 56, verse 5). The name, I believe, is important. [A little tangent: Yad Vashem bestows the title Righteous Among the Nations to non-Jews who helped Jews escape the Holocaust. Only three Americans have received this honor: the Sharp couple and Varian Fry. Fry helped thousands of artists, writers, and filmmakers escape Europe, among them: Hannah Arendt, Max Ophuls, Marcel Duchamp, Andre Breton, Marc Chagall, and Max Ernst. How is this guy not better known?] What do you think? Is Bolaño’s portrayal of the murders insincere or exploitative or does he end up honoring the lives of the women?

Looking back over my notes for this whole Part (volume 2 of the 3 volume set), I have a few tidbits I’d like to put out there for conversation. Apologies if some of these have been covered in the forums or on other blogs.

• On page 579, Hass says the name of the killer of women in Juarez is Antonio Uribe. We see a lot about the slipperiness of the Uribe family. In fact, one of the men arrested for the murders in Juarez is named Uribe. “Juárez bus driver Victor García Uribe was given a 50 year sentence on October 13 by a Chihuahua judge for the rape and murder of eight women whose bodies were found in a cotton field in November 2001.”

• I mentioned how parts of The Part About Fate reminded me of Tarantino and Pulp Fiction, well I was surprised to feel that parts of The Part About the Crimes reminded me of Paul Thomas Anderson and Magnolia. I am particularly thinking of the behind-the-scenes TV show sections and this part about Reinaldo: “there was the famous host, Televisa’s star of the moment, sitting at the foot of the bed, with a drink in his hand…” which brought to mind a scene from Magnolia of Philip Baker Hall’s character, a famous TV show host sitting at the foot of his bed with a drink, feeling miserable, contemplating a confession to his wife. A tenuous connection, but just thought I’d mention it.

• In that same scene (page 566), Reinaldo realizes the famous TV host wants to kill himself and Reinaldo says “Anything I might say, I realized then, would be useless.” I think this is metaphor for the femicides. How can they be stopped? Should you intervene? What can you even say that will be useful?

• Way back on page 433, I saw this passage which reminded me of the themes of David Foster Wallace’s posthumous novel The Pale King: “And at this point, after sighing deeply, Florita Almada would say that several conclusions could be drawn: 1) that the thoughts that seize a shepherd can easily gallop away with him because it’s human nature; 2) that facing boredom head on was an act of bravery and Benito Juárez had done it and she had done it too and both had seen terrible things in the face of boredom, things she would rather not recall.”

• In our first bolano-l group read of 2666, Andrew Haley wrote: “The Part  About the Crimes is particularly tricky, as it obviously is based on real events, and apparently was inspired by a book length cataloging of the victims (Huesos en el Desierto; Anagrama, 2002) put together by the Mexican reporter Sergio Gonzalez on whom the character of the Mexican reporter named Sergio Gonzalez is based. Are we meant to read The Part About the Crimes as a kind of New Journalism? Is Bolaño using the vessel of his fiction to perform a political or social function that is essentially journalistic rather than literary? Is he in essence using 2666 as a vehicle to deliver Huesos en el Desierto to a broader audience?” Sergio Gonzalez Rodriguez’s book does not appear to be translated into English yet (publishers: get on it!), although there is a French edition. Somewhat related is Diana Washington Valdez’s book The Killing Fields: Harvest of Women.

• If you are interested in seeing how some of the characters from this Part might look on stage, I’ll link to a post from last year about a theatrical adaptation of 2666. (Warning: Possible Spoilers)

• The affair between Juan de Dios Martínez and Elvira Campos seems awfully reminiscent of a relationship in a Manuel Puig novel, but I’m forgetting which one. Anyone remember if it’s in Blood of Requited Love or Pubis Angelical? There is a lot about being in dark bedrooms at dusk, looking out across the city.

• The passing mention of Sherlock Holmes on page 610 reminded me that Borges wrote a poem called Sherlock Holmes. His short story Death and the Compass also bears a strong resemblance to a Sherlock-type detective. There is even a novel wherein a character named Jorge Luis Borges is a crime-solving detective.

• Some quotes:
“If life is misery, why do we endure it?”
“Every hundred feet the world changes.”
“Trust in God, He wont’ let anything disappear.”
“When you make mistakes from the inside, the mistakes stop mattering. Mistakes stop being mistakes.”

Once again, there is a fantastic summary of this week’s reading, with commentary, over at ijustreadaboutthat:

Since most of us in the online readalong also read IJ, we have a tendency to use it as a point of comparison (even though it really isn’t comparable at all).  But I will get in the comparison game as well, just to say that like IJ, each Part of this book ends with something way up floating in the air.  And while the IJ ending was initially discomfiting, upon later reflection, it works quite well.  I only hope that 2666 offers the same satisfaction.

Week 9: Deaths

by Michael Cooler

46 — p.466 — unidentified — 25 yrs — September 1995 — mutilated, found near the highway
47 — p.466 — unidentified — September 1995 — found in the dump El Chile
48 — p.466 — unidentified — 13 yrs — September 1995 — mutilated, raped, stabbed, strangled
49 — p.493 — Adela García Estrada — 15 yrs — November 1995 — worker, found in the El Ojito ravine, mutilated and strangled
50 — p.493 — unidentified — 19 yrs — November 1995 — found in a vacant lot, stabbed
51 — p.494 — Beatriz Concepción Roldán — 22 yrs — November 1995 — waitress, found near the highway, stabbed and mutilated
52 — p.495 — Michelle Requejo — 14 yrs — December 1995 — worker, stabbed, found in a vacant lot, tied up with the same knots that bound Estrella Ruiz Sandoval
53 — p.496 — Rosa López Larios — 19 yrs — December 1995 — worker, found in a pine grove behind a Pemex tower, stabbed
54 — p.498 — Ema Contreras — December 1995 — shot by Officer Jaime Sánchez at home
55 — p.500 — unidentified — 30 yrs — February 1996 — Indian, found in an old railroad shed, stabbed
56 — p.501 — unidentified — 10 yrs — March 1996 — found between highway and a valley, stabbed
57 — p.501 — unidentified — 13 yrs — March 1996 — found between highway and a valley, strangled
58 — p.503 — unidentified — 16 yrs — March 1996 — perhaps a hitchhiker, found by the highway, stabbed, strangled
59 — p.503 — unidentified — 16 yrs — March 1996 — found on the slopes of Cerro Estrella, stabbed and mauled
60 — p.504 — Beverly Beltrán Hoyos — 16 yrs — March 1996 — worker, found on a strectch of open ground, stabbed, raped
61 — p.504 — unidentified — 18-20 yrs — March 1996 — stabbed, raped
62 — p.507 — unidentified — 20 yrs — April 1996 — worker, found on the open ground east of the old rail sheds, stabbed, raped
63 — p.507 — unidentified — April 1996 — found in the desert, beaten, strangled
64 — p.508 — Paula Sánchez Garcés — 23 yrs — June 1996 — dancer, shot by her husband Julián Centeno while dancing
65 — p.509 — unidentified — 17 yrs — June 1996 — found by the highway, stabbed, raped
66 — p.509 — Erica Mendoza — 21 yrs — June 1996 — found by the highway, raped by her husband and his cousin, stabbed repeatedly
67 — p.513 — unidentified — 15-16 yrs — July 1996 — found near the highway, stabbed

Other deaths:

p.492 — The narco Enrique Hernández goes to prison for killing four people from the same family. He appears to retaliate by having his gunmen steal a shipment of cocaine from Estanislao Campuzano, killing two warehouse watchmen in the process. Later two more of Campuzano’s men, a truck driver and his companion, are killed while transporting drugs to the U.S.

p.500 — Jan 1996 — No women die, but three men are shot in a bar in a drug dispute, a Central American man is found with his throat cut, and a man kills himself playing Russian roulette.

p.508 — A twenty-one-year-old prisoner commits suicide.

Week 8: Dreams

by Daryl L.L. Houston

422: In spite of a keen awareness of their differences, Juan de Dios Martinez has peaceful, happy dreams of Elvira Campos and himself living together in a rustic cabin in the mountains. They slept on a bearskin with a wolfskin covering them, and she sometimes laughed and ran into the woods. I’m reminded of Pelletier’s domestic dreams of Norton, in which she too is on the periphery. At least in Martinez’s dream, he has interactions with Campos that precede her receding to the margins.

434: Here and elsewhere, La Santa has visions. They’re not strictly speaking dreams, but it seems a similar type of experience.

447: Harry Magaña dreams of a street in Huntsville pounded by a sandstorm. He ignores pleas for help rescuing some girls at a bead factory and keeps his nose in a file containing photocopied documents written in “a language not of this world.” There are several similar things among the critics’ dreams.

456: La Santa sometimes dreams she’s a country schoolteacher at a hilltop school from which she watches girls on their way to class. Beyond, peasants make fruitful agrarian use of the land. Though they’re in the distance, she can hear their words clearly, and the words are unchanging from day to day. Here I’m reminded of Espinoza’s dream of the painting in his hotel room. Then: “There were dreams in which everything fit together and other dreams in which nothing fit and the world was like a creaky coffin.”

459: La Santa equates her visions with dreams. They keep her awake. In actual dreams, she sees the crimes as if they’re an exploded television set, and she sees various horrible scenes in the shards scattered around her bedroom.

Here’s a question: Is Florita something of a narrator of this section? It is a fragmented portion of the book, many of the murders ghastly reflections or maybe refractions of others. Paired with the ventriloquist as she is in this week’s reading, perhaps we’re to take her as an adopted voice or instrument through which many of the scenes unfold. Maybe we’re seeing the scenes as she sees them in her visions. I doubt this is the intention, really, as the stories are told mostly from a pretty straightforward, detached-narrative point of view (I also happen to know what Bolaño said about who narrates the book), but it’s an interesting thing to ponder.

Week 8: The Ventriloquist

by Maria Bustillos

A number of readers aren’t quite on board with Florita Almada, it seems.  A consensus has developed on Infinite Zombies around the idea that the legitimacy of her views can be called into question.  I’m posting most of my response here, because I’d like to know what others think on this point.

If you are afflicted by e.g. what you are reading in this book, what you see in the news, then Florita is saying that you can begin to address your own grief, guilt, shame etc. by looking to the quality of your own conduct toward others. It’s a matter of focus. What it’s saying is that human kindness IS fairness and justice. Something you have to think about specifically and put into action. That this is a real and practical way out for each individual man who can’t stand the horror.

There is, however, something in what you say about the author’s distance from this slightly maudlin-sounding prescription–that it’s “a piece of naïveté for our affectionate amusement.”

You’ll recall that right before before Florita first goes on TV, there’s been a ventriloquist on. That ventriloquist’s name is, I believe, Roberto Bolaño. He is “an autodidact who had made a name for himself” in various places, and “who thought his dummy was a living creature.” This ventriloquist is really annoyed with, almost panicked by his dummy; the dummy has actually tried to kill him but is very weak, and could never manage it. This dummy (among others, of course, but this one right now) is Florita Almada, who is about to speak, right after the ventriloquist … that’s how it always goes, first the ventriloquist and then the dummy. Florita really likes the ventriloquist, though. And even to him, she shows a great deal of sympathy, she gives him advice, even though she’s not saying the stuff she’s supposed to be saying, just like a dummy who won’t behave.  (Pretty much any fictionalist will tell you how a character comes to life pretty much on his own, and comes to have his own agenda.)

The thing is, Florita really is a saint, with a strong and fixed moral position, with real comfort and advice for the afflicted. The ventriloquist doesn’t care for this! He finds her dangerous … she’s dangerous “for people like him, hypersensitive, of artistic temperament, their wounds still open.”

She lets him have it, for sure.

Week 8: Deaths

by Nicole Perrin

23 — p.406 — Lucy Anne Sander — 26 yrs — spring 1994 — American tourist who disappeared from a plaza, stabbed, raped, mutilated, dumped near border fence; her death instigates an unofficial investigation by Harry Magaña
24 — p.411 — América García Cifuentes — 24 yrs — spring 1994 — strangled, no signs of rape, dumped near Hermosillo highway
25 — p.412 — Mónica Durán Reyes — 12 yrs — May 1994 — kidnapped from school in a black Peregrino or MasterRoad, strangled, raped, dumped near highway
26 — p.412 — Rebeca Fernández de Hoyos — 33 yrs — June 1994 — strangled, “probably not” raped, found in her own bathroom
27 — p.417 — Isabel “La Vaca” — around 30 — August 1994 — beaten to death by two friends
28 — p.423 — unidentified — 15-17 yrs — October 1994 — strangled, raped, found at the new city dump
29 — p.424 — unidentified — around 30 — November 1994 — strangled, raped, dumped on the second floor of a construction site
30 — p.425 — Silvana Pérez Arjona — 15 — November 1994 — stabbed, raped, burned; her lover confesses to the crime
31 — p.449 — unidentified — unknown — January 5, 1995 — skeleton found in a field; impossible to determine cause or time of death without sending the remains to Hermisillo or Mexico City
32 — p.449 — Claudia Pérez Millán — 31 yrs — January 15, 1995 — strangled, raped, left in a white blanket in a dumpster; her husband strongly suspected
33 — p.450 — María de la Luz Romero — 14 yrs — February 1995 — stabbed, raped, beaten and dumped by the highway after being kidnapped on her way home from a nightclub
34 — p.451 — Sofia Serrano — around 35 — April 1995 — cocaine overdose, found in hotel room registered to Alejandro Peñalva Brown
35 — p.452 — Olga Paredes Pacheco — 25 yrs — April 1995 — strangled, raped, found next to a trash can with her skirt on backwards
36 — p.454 — Paula García Zapatero — 19 yrs — July 1995 — strangled, raped, found in the yard of an auto repair shop
37 — p.454 — Rosaura López Santana — 19 yrs — July 1995 — raped repeatedly, found along the highway
38 — p.459 — Aurora Muñoz Álvarez — 28 yrs — August 1995 — strangled, beaten and whipped, found on the pavement of the highway; had been seen getting into a black Peregrino
39 — p.460 — Emilia Escalante Sanjuán — 33 yrs — August 1995 — death due to strangulation or alcohol poisoning, with multiple hematomas on the chest and neck, found in an intersection
40 — p.460 — Estrella Ruiz Sandoval — 17 yrs — August 1995 — strangled, raped, found next to the highway
41 — p.460 — Mónica Posadas — 20 yrs — August 1995 — strangled, possibly “raped three ways,” mutilated; found in a vacant lot; her stepfather confesses to the crime
42 — p.462 — unidentified — 16-23 yrs — August 1995 — shot, found on the highway
43 — p.462 — unidentified — unknown — August 1995 — state of decomposition made it impossible to determine cause of death without sending the remains to Hermosillo or Mexico City; found near victim 41
44 — p.462 — Jacqueline Ríos — 25 yrs — August 1995 — shot in the chest and abdomen, found next to the highway
45 — p.463 — Marisa Hernández Silva — 17 yrs — September 1995 — had vanished in July on her way to school; strangled, raped and mutilated

Other deaths:

Harry Magaña, the sheriff from Huntsville, Arizona who goes to Santa Teresa on an unofficial mission to investigate the death of Lucy Anne Sander, disappears, most likely murdered. Miguel Montes, whom Lucy
Anne met when she was visiting Santa Teresa, is also likely dead, and Magaña likely walked in on his killers disposing of his body.

Also, at the end of this section Epifanio tells Lalo Cura about the notebook he stole from the evidence related to the case of Isabel Urrea (death #4 in week 7), noting several things in it that were “a mystery,” but saying, “I could have done something. I could’ve called some of the names I’d found and asked for money. But money doesn’t do it for me. So I kept the notebook, fuck it, and didn’t do anything.” Another sign of the “do nothing” attitude of several of the (male) characters in the novel.

Week 7: Vocabulary

by Meaghan Doyle

abated
to decrease in force or intensity

anarchic
lacking order, regularity, or definiteness

antagonism
opposition of a conflicting force, tendency, or principle

aversion
a feeling of repugnance toward something with a desire to avoid or turn from it

berserk
frenzied, crazed

cassocks
a close-fitting ankle-length garment worn especially in Roman Catholic and Anglican churches by the clergy and by laypersons assisting in services

chilango
Mexico, slang, from Mexico City. Often used derogatorily by those living outside the capital

colonia
neighborhoods in Mexican cities, which have no jurisdictional autonomy or representation

compadre
a close friend

craniocrebral
involving both cranium and brain

guaco
vine-like Central and South American, and West Indian climbing plants, reputed to have curative powers

hyoid
a U-shaped bone or complex of bones that is situated between the base of the tongue and the larynx and that supports the tongue, the larynx, and their muscles

insolent
insultingly contemptuous in speech or conduct

litany
a resonant or repetitive chant

macabre
having death as a subject

parochial
of or relating to a church parish

reprisals
a retaliatory act

sacristy
a room in a church where sacred vessels and vestments are kept and where the clergy vests

scourge
a cause of wide or great affliction

tumefaction
an action or process of swelling or becoming tumorous

Week 7: Locations

by Sara Corona Goldstein

pp. 353-404

Colonia Las Flores – the body of Esperanza Gómaz Saldaña is found here in January 1993; the first of the victims to be counted. (p. 353)

Colonia Mancera – Luisa Celina Vázquez is killed here at the end of January, 1993. (p. 354)

Calle El Arroyo (between Colinia Cuidad Nueva and Colonia Morelos) – in April 1993, a knife sharpener discovers a badly beaten woman and calls the police. She dies before they can help her. (p.356)

A dump between Colonia Las Flores and General Sepúlveda industrial park – another woman’s body is found in May 1993. (p. 358)

Calle Jazmín in Colonia Carranza – Guadalupe Rojas is killed outside her apartment here in May 1993. (p. 359)

Cerro Estrella – the body of the last dead woman in May 1993 is found here. Police Chief Pedro Negrete visits the site alone. (p. 360)

The church of San Rafael on Calle Patriotas Mexicanos – the church desecrator appears here at the end of May 1993. (p. 361)

The church of San Tadeo in Colonia Kino – the church desecrator appears again here. (p. 365)

The church of Santa Catalina in Colonia Lomas del Toro – another church desecration happens here. (p. 367)

The church of Nuestro Señor Jesucristo in Colonia Reforma – the Penitent goes beserk here a few days later. (p. 368)

El Chile (illegal dump) – the body of Emilia Mena Mena is found here. (p. 372)

Ciudad Guzmán – Emilia Mena Mena’s boyfriend was suspected of fleeing to his uncle’s house here. (p. 373)

Morelos Preparatory School – the janitor finds another woman’s body here. (p. 373)

Colonia Maytorena – Margarita López Santos’ body is found here in June 1993 after being missing for 40 days. (p. 375).

Mexico City – Sergio Gonzáles writes for La Razón, a newspaper based here. (p. 376)

Colonia Michoacán – Elvira Campos lives here. (p. 383)

Villaviciosa – Pedro Negrete travels here to hire someone (Lalo Cura) for his friend Pedro Rengifo. (p. 384)

Colonia Lindavista – another dead woman is found in September 1993. (p. 389)

Lomas de Poniente – Feliciano José Sandoval, alleged killer of Gabriela Morón, was from here. (p. 390)

Arsenio Farrell industrial park – Marta Navales Gómez was found here in October 1993. (p. 391)

Francisco I School, near Colonia Álamos – a Salvadorean immigrant finds the body of Andrea Pacheco Martínez here in November. (p. 392)

Colonia Morelos – Ernesto Luis Castillo Jiménez is found wandering here after he murders his mother on December 20, 1993. (p. 393)

Colonia Madero – while Pedro Rengifo’s wife is visiting a friend here, Lalo Cura is involved in a shoot-out with two gunmen. (p. 394)

El Ajo, a bar off the Nogales highway – the first dead woman of 1994 is found here. (p. 399)

Paquita Avendaño in Hermosilla – Nati Gordillo and Rubí Campos are locked up here after being accused of the muder of Leticia Contreras Zamudio. (p. 401)

Colonia Veracruz – Penélope Méndez Becerra’s family lived here. (p. 403)

Week 7: Tidbits

Sometimes the only way to digest this book is in tiny chunks.

Throughout this section we get mentions of many of the colonias in Santa Teresa. Colonias usually have their own postal code, but are in not involved in municipal governance. The term barrio is more prevalent in the U.S. than in Mexico.

page 360: “He remembered that his son, who was studying in Phoenix, had once told him that plastic bags took hundreds, maybe thousands of years to disintegrate.” If this is May, 1993, then maybe those bags will be mostly disintegrated by say 2666?

page 372:

The dump didn’t have a formal name, because it wasn’t supposed to be there, but it had an informal name: it was called El Chile. During the day there wasn’t a soul to be seen in El Chile or the surrounding fields soon to be swallowed up by the dump. At night those who had nothing or less than nothing ventured out. In Mexico City they call them teporochos, but a teporocho is a survivor, a cynic and a humorist, compared to the human beings who swarmed alone or in pairs around El Chile.

Another name for these trash-pickers, unique to Mexico, is pepenadores. Teporocho is much more derogatory: it implies a homeless alcoholic, or a drunk layabout. What do you think?

This is really the first section where we start to see talk of “Indians” or native culture in and around the city of Santa Teresa. None of the critics are Mexicans, Amalfitano is from Spain, Fate is from the US, Archimboldi is not Mexican, only the crimes and the criminals are native to the land. Perhaps this section of the novel finally gives us a look at the “real” Santa Teresa. Here are a few of the mentions:
– Page 361: “a young woman with Indian features went in to confess.”
– Page 366: “There used to be an Indian settlement here, remembered the inspector.”
– Page 368: “Three priests and two young Pápago Indian seminarians who where studying anthropology and history at the University of Santa Teresa slept in an adjacent building.
– Page 394: “a Yaqui Indian who almost never talked.”

The most famous Yaqui Indian has got to be Don Juan.

Week 7: Dreams

by Daryl L.L. Houston

386: The Santa Teresa police chief dreams about his twin brother. They’ve gone out to roam the scrub hills and hunt for lizards, and upon their return at dusk, they see lots of trucks with cutesy phrases painted on them. The brothers, of different heights but of otherwise like appearance, have identical movements as they walk back into town. The dream “vanishe[s] little by little in a comfortable yellow haze.”

387: Epifanio dreams of the female coyote left by the side of the road. He just listens to her pain and doesn’t help her or put her out of her misery. Next, he’s driving Peter Negrete’s car along a long track into the mountains. When he accelerates, he hears a noise under the car, as if something is jumping. A huge dust plume (“like the tail of a hallucinogenic coyote”) rises behind him. He stops the car to check and see what’s making the noise and discovers a body tied up in the trunk, still alive. He closes the trunk without removing the cloth from the person’s head to see who it is and drives toward the mountains, though they appear to be burning or crumbling.

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, 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.




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