Week 9: Wall of Voodoo

by Maria Bustillos

The appearance of Klaus Haas produced an absolute brick wall for me in this book. Until now, I’d been able to enter into the narrative in a receptive frame of mind, just fluidly kind of taking it all in, but the incomprehensibility of this character stopped me cold.  I’ve reread the jail passage several times (not a pleasant task, though an absorbing one) trying to get a grip on what is being said, here.

It doesn’t seem to me that anyone could survive being sodomized with a shiv?  That’s one thing.  But the fate of the victim is left unclear, so far as I can make out–I mean it is difficult and expensive to repair a lacerated colon and you might bleed to death pdq in a Mexican jail?  So this guy is really violent, willing to kill, right from the outset. (Intelligence here welcomed.)

I had been operating under the assumption that the next time we run across any kind of a tall guero in Mexico, that person is going to be Archimboldi.  But Haas is not, in fact, Archimboldi, because it turns out he’s only forty.  What is the relationship then between these two tall Germanic blonds? I’m now guessing that they are blood relations, maybe? On the other hand, the internal landscape of Haas seems to feature no kind of reference to books or writing. I can’t really tell how educated Haas is but on balance the evidence is that he is smart but not literary, at least he’s not wallpapered on the inside with books the way most literary people are (including Amalfitano and the critics.)

Another point on Haas that struck me deeply. His mind works on these really grotesque lines, and I will not be surprised if he killed some of these girls. However, there is a freakish extra ingredient to the remarks and interior workings of Haas:  they’re intensely poetic. His nightmares are full of Boschianly horrible and yet intense and painterly imagery.  Also, he’s calling down in a kind of oracular way (as if he were the reverse of Florita Almada) the coming of an even worse evil than himself.  His warnings spook even these seriously vicious men in the jail; they have almost the lurid smack of santeria.

As a final point: the events in this section are real in two senses.  First, they are an imagined version of what has really been going on in Ciudad Juarez, events we’ve read about in real newspapers. Second, they’re real within the context of the novel; by this I mean, as we discussed earlier, the critics lived in a sort of bubble that real events of any kind just couldn’t seem to penetrate; they’re reading about the world rather than living in it.  Good luck with that in Santa Teresa! Look what happened to Amalfitano, reality in all its bloody splendor is positively stalking him until (thank god!) Oscar Fate comes along and saves Rosa. Actually any kind of horrible thing could have happened to him afterward. We didn’t exactly leave him in good hands.

And now we’re in the belly of the beast, right? Are Archimboldi’s books so fascinating to the critics because they partake of reality, which is what we desire no matter how dangerous and terrible it is?  Is this why the critics take their opportunity to beat up the Pakistani cab driver, when it comes, because all men are at bottom bloodthirsty, bestial creatures?  And they sort of subsume their real nature in literature, and subsume as well any feeling of connection with or responsibility to real events, whether criminal, political etc? Are we also absolving ourselves of the claims of reality just by reading this book?

Week 9: Dreams

by Daryl L.L. Houston

471: This one’s not a dream proper, but it’s sure dream-like, and it seems to point back to his dreams of her in a domestic setting described on page 422. Juan de Dios Martinez daydreams of Elvira Campos in her apartment. Sometimes she’s naked in bed leaning toward him, and other times she’s on the terrace, surrounded by metallic, phallic telescopes. In these latter imaginings, she’s taking notes, and when he comes up behind her and looks at her notes, he sees only phone numbers.

488: Haas dreams of walking the corridors of the prison with eyes as keen as a hawk’s. The corridors are described as a labyrinth of snores and nightmares. He’s aware of what’s happening in each cell. Suddenly he finds himself at the edge of an abyss. He lifts his arms and tries to say something to a legion of tiny Klaus Haases, but he has the impression that someone has sewn his lips shut. He feels something alien in his mouth and rips out the threads to find that the foreign body was a penis (not his own). Then (in the dream) he curls up and falls asleep on the edge of the abyss. More dreams usually followed.

490: Not a dream here, but mention of one, as Haas tries to describe how his fellow prisoners know he’s innocent: “It’s like a noise you hear in a dream. The dream, like everything dreamed in enclosed spaces, is contagious. Suddenly someone dreams it and after a while half the prisoners dream it. But the noise you hear isn’t part of the dream, it’s real. The noise belongs to a separate order of things. Do you understand? First someone and then everyone hears a noise in a dream, but the noise is from real life, not the dream.”

506: Upon receiving a call from Reinaldo, Florita claims to have been dreaming about him. In the dream, she sees a meteor shower and a boy who looks like Reinaldo watching the falling stars. I’m reminded here of Seaman’s assertion on 252 that stars are semblances in the way that dreams are semblances. Given certain other parallels between Seaman and Florita, the echo can hardly be accidental.

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 Garcia 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 Concepcion Roldan — 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 Lopez 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 Sanchez 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 Beltran Hoyos — 16 yrs — March 1996 — worker, found on a stretch 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 Sanchez Garcias — 23 yrs — June 1996 — dancer, shot by her husband Julian 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 Hernandez 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: Locations

by Sara Corona Goldstein

Huntsville, Arizona— Lucy Anne Sander lived here. (p. 406)

Mississippi — Lucy Anne Sander was born here. (p. 406)

Calle Verdejo, in Colonia Centro-Norte — the American consulate is here. (p. 407)

Diego Riveras School, in Colonia Lomas del Toro— Monica Duran Reyes was kidnapped from here. Rebecca Fernandez de Hoyos is found in this Colonia, also. (p. 412)

Oaxaca — Rebecca Fernandez de Hoyos is from here. (p. 412)

Internal Affairs on Avenida Madero-Norte — a whorehouse where Harry Magaña befriends Demetrio Águila. (p. 415)

Calle Luciarnaga in Colonia Ruben Dari­o — Águila has a house here, where he lets Magaña stay. (p. 415)

Churcarit — Magaña discovers a love letter written to Miguel Montes by a girl from here. Magaña and Águilar agree that this is Montes’ hometown. (p. 422)

Calle Alondra, in Colonia Podesta — in November 1994 a woman’s body is found here in on the second floor of a building under construction. (p. 424)

Profesor Emilio Cervantes, in Colonia Lomas del Toro – Silvana Pérez Arjona attended school here until she had to drop out. (p. 426)

Nácori Grande — Florita Almada (La Santa) was born here. (p. 429)

Villa Pesqueria — Florita Almada and her family move here. She marries a livestock dealer. (p. 429)

Hermosillo — Reinaldo’s TV show, on which Florita Almada appears, has its station here. (p. 434)

Guaymas — the ventriloquist on Reinaldo’s TV show is from here. (p. 434)

Churcarit — Harry Magaña travels here, meets María del Mar Enciso Montes, and visits Miguel Montes’ house. (p. 437)

Tijuana — Magana travels here, calls his friend from the LAPD, and meets Raul Rami­rez Cerezo and Chucho. (p. 440)

Calle Santa Catarina, in Colonia Carranza — Magaña goes to Elsa Fuentes’ house here. (p. 445)

Toconilco, Durango — Elsa Fuentes’ mother lives here. (p. 447)

Calle Portal de San Pablo — Magaña goes here, to Francisco’s house. (p. 448)

Querétaro — Paula Garcia Zapatero is from here. (p. 454)

Sage, California — Abe (Conan) Mitchell, the American consul, spends time in his cabin here. (p. 455)

Escondido, California— Mitchell’s wife stays here with her sister while he is in Sage. (p. 455)

Michoacan — Monica Posades and her family are from here. (p. 461)

Vasconelos Preparatory School, in Colonia Reforma — Marisa Hernández Silva attended school here. (p. 463)

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 naivete 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.


There is an excellent summary of this week’s reading over on Ijustreadaboutthat:

There were seven killings in August 1995—one of whom was killed by her stepfather. The rest were unsolved.

Epifanio returns briefly to bemoan that judiciales never find a case.  And he reveals that he swiped an address book that no one even bothered to ask about or to use for evidence. Of course, he didn’t do anything with it either.

And next Sergio Gonzalez returns briefly. I loved the joke that arts reports were considered faggots “(assthetes, they called them)” (464) and I wonder if that was original in the Spanish or of that is just an awesome translation.

[Our library has a copy of 2666 in Spanish, so I’m delighted to have been able to look up this word. The page numbering is different (of course) and I’m delighted that even with my minimal Spanish, I was able to track down this section with relative ease. I would never bother working on any other translation in the book, but this word really stood out. And so, in the original, we get “(periodistas <<pulturales>>, los llamaban)” (581). Using Google translate I’m getting the “pul” part to mean neatness/fastdiousness and the “ultrales” means culture. It’s a funny joke in Spanish but I love that Natasha Wimmer came up with “assthetes.” What a great translation.]

Excellent! Go read it!

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 Magana
24 — p.411 — America Garci­a 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 Perez 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 Perez 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 Ri­os — 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 Magana, 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 Magana 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

to decrease in force or intensity

lacking order, regularity, or definiteness

opposition of a conflicting force, tendency, or principle

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

frenzied, crazed

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

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

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

a close friend

involving both cranium and brain

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

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

insultingly contemptuous in speech or conduct

a resonant or repetitive chant

having death as a subject

of or relating to a church parish

a retaliatory act

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

a cause of wide or great affliction

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 Gamaz Saldana is found here in January 1993; the first of the victims to be counted. (p. 353)

Colonia Mancera — Luisa Celina Vazquez 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 Sepulveda industrial park — another woman’s body is found in May 1993. (p. 358)

Calle Jazmi­n 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 Guzman —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 Gonzales writes for La Razón, a newspaper based here. (p. 376)

Colonia Michoacan — 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)

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