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:






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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15 Responses to “Week 5: pages 231-290”

  • Comment from David Savarese

    I enjoyed this section, and saw it as an easing off in the narrative after the denseness of Amalfitano. I hate to draw conclusions, but wanted to toss a few ideas out. Many critics, and the publisher himself, draw comparisons with the Seaman interview and Father Mapple’s Jonah sermon in Moby Dick. This sermon sets a tone for the epic as a whole (epics that Bolano suggests people avoid reading and writing these days, present company excluded)but I felt this whole section helps set the tone for the crimes in a way that the others parts intentionally shied away from in order to show the obliviousness of the empowered world. Where the other main characters find reasons not to accept the reality of St. T, Fate sticks his toes into Bolano’s perception of our reality from boxing to the underutilized power of the journalistic word. He allows us to do so by creating an outsider American who is sensitive and brilliant in the face of expectations for the stereotyped africanamerican male, one that is allowed access to the underside of Mexico because of these very expectations (that he is a boxing fan, a built womanizer, etc.). While he eventually addresses these expectations, finding himself a romantic capable of violence, his escape does not succumb to casual heroics. My main qualm is the role of Amalifitano’s daughter being so periphery, as is the role of women in general thus far. Though I suspect it is intentional, and not misogynistic.

  • Comment from Dan Summers

    For some reason, my comments keep getting eaten. Anyhow, I’ll try this again.

    My take on this week’s section here:

  • Comment from Dan Summers

    I keep trying to post a link to my response to this week’s section, and every time I do the comment disappears. (Perhaps it’s an omen? My computer seems full of gremlins today.)

    Anyhow, any interested parties should be able to get there by clicking on my name and scrolling down a wee bit.

  • I think your point about characters as mirrors is especially relevant if we note Fate’s confusion (“I could figure it out if I felt better”) and nausea—his inability to navigate the maze of information, geography, etc. to the point of having to purge all the nastiness he encounters. Also, Seaman can be read as a mirror of the bizarre facade behind which the darkness lurks and roils…his speech is a farce in the errors he makes, the misinformation he imparts, and the general skewed perspective he offers; for in this way his sounds a lot like the men in the bar Fate meets once in Mexico.

  • Remember that the book is written in Spanish, though. And the name in the Spanish text is: Oscar Fate, not Oscar Destino, or whatever. So it’s way less obvious, and really an eternal dodge of novelists in English, in characters from Millamant to Voldemort.

    I loved David Savarese’s post, and am just heading out to read Dan’s.

  • Comment from Trent Crable

    I’m enjoying the section. I find it to be the most engaging so far (it’s a close call with the critics).

    Contrary to Naptime, I was actually impressed with Bolano’s ability to write about black people from Detroit. It isn’t perfect, of course, but I think he did a better job than most American writers would do trying to write about a subculture of some foreign country. And yes, some of the characters are sort of ridiculous, but most people are ridiculous when you really look at them.

    I don’t understand “hating” a part of the book. My humble view is if you read with some sympathy and compassion, with the desire to understand, it’ll mean more.

  • Comment from Jimmy

    Fate may be an overly heavy-handed symbolic name. But so is “Seaman”, especially in the context of what he says about the sea being dangerous.

    • I think “Seaman” is a pun.

    • Comment from David Savarese

      I agree, and am wondering if these morality play personifcations (Rosa, Guerra, Fate)have significance that we should read into to more fully develop the characters “meaning”, or if a major part of the book is a rebellion against reading into / developing the author’s intent. I could be that this is a book that frowns upon digesting/chewing meaning in the face of a culture of violence (against women).

      • Comment from Jimmy

        I don’t have any clue! Perhaps your best bet is to try to go ahead and read into it, and see if that bears any fruit for you. I remember the first two parts had a lot of passing commentary on “fate” (the concept, not the character). Would be interesting to go back and see how they tie in with the person as well (if they do).

  • We can’t know how many removes the author is operating at, though I’ve tried to gauge this by reading interviews and trying to get a sense of the man behind the writer. There are a lot of clues there, I think. But I really don’t understand this idea that Seaman isn’t telling the truth, as he sees it, and I didn’t see so many errors or anything misleading in his sermon. The sole error that kind of leaped out at me was the idea that there is no cholesterol in a dish of brussels sprouts in a sauce prepared with three tablespoons of butter.

  • […] David points out in the comments of the previous post, in his Q&A, Lorin Stein mentioned that he and the […]

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