Week 7: The Part About the Crimes, pages 353-404

The horror.

The evil.

The murders.

Well, at least the most-hyped part of the novel. Or the part that causes many people to put the book aside.

At first, the narrative seems to be straightforward. A girl is found dead. Then another, then another. But, like all parts of this novel, there is complexity upon complexity layered upon the narrative. There are murder mysteries, stories-within-the-stories, character arcs, allusions, black humor, and irony. The pages are dense with details, names, locations, fragments, and dots waiting to be connected.

This is my second read of the novel and I have to admit that I was not looking forward rereading this part again, to curling up with a nice book about female sexual homicides. Although, I knew that the section is full of deeper meanings that need to be teased out, even if the secret of the world is contained within them, I still found it a little hard to get motivated to start that section.

We are plunged into it. In the first five pages, we read about six different murders. As soon as we read about one, the camera pans away and we’re on to the next one. It’s like walking through a cemetery with a flashlight, trying to make sense of each headstone that your light finds. Who was this person? How did they die? How about this woman, too? Or that one over there, only 13?

Over the next month, I hope to look more at the real-world Santa Teresa, Ciudad Juárez, and it’s horrible crimes, but one of the sad ironies of both the fictional town and the real town is that women are attracted to the city because of the easy availability of jobs. Most of the murdered women are workers at the maquiladoras around town. These assembly plants require hundreds of workers, most of whom they pay poorly and treat as interchangeable, but on the scale of unemployment to employment, they are shining stars.

The city is rapidly growing and rapidly dying.

After eight murders in seven pages, we move to the story about the church desecrator, the Penitent, who stabs the church sexton and pees on the floor. Police Inspector Juan de Dios Martínez goes to visit the asylum to see if any of the patients match the description of the church desecrator. He doesn’t find the criminal, but he finds the director of the asylum. Why does Bolaño include the story of the Penitent here? The Crimes are not just the femicides—they are murder-as-murder, a desecration of the sacred, a soulcrime, an offense against God in some way.

More to come.

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