“Appearing and Disappearing Like True Poetry”

Ben Ehrenreich expands on his LA Times review in the Poetry Foundation’s Journal:

Of course Bolaño himself was first of all a poet. Only in his last decade, with a family to support and death swiping at his heels—he learned in 1992 that he was terminally ill—did Bolaño turn to prose, fiction being a more gainful grit than verse. He wrote furiously during those years, publishing four novels, as many novellas, and three short story collections before his death at the age of 50 in 2003. His last and greatest novel, the gargantuan 2666, was released posthumously and is only now available in English. Relatively few poets appear in its 900-plus pages. All of his other longer works, though, are swimming with them. Most of them are very, very bad.

So many of these reviews are long rehashes of Bolaño’s life and bibliography that one wonders if a compelling (or at least neatly packaged) biography is necessary for literary greatness. Perhaps this is what Pynchon and Salinger were trying to avoid–although their withdrawal from the celebrity-author complex gives them a compelling and neatly packaged biography. Bolaño is a unique case in that he is truly being launched into the English-speaking literary stratosphere (post-mortem) without a cumulative appreciation of his works or “story.” It’s all being crafted as we watch.

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