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 Papago 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.

Week 7: Deaths

by Michael Cooler

1 — p.353 — Esperanza Gomez Saldaña — 13 yrs — Jan 1993 — found in vacant lot in Colonia Las Flores, strangled, raped
2 — p.354 — Luisa Celina Vázquez — 16 yrs — Jan 1993 — found in apt. in Colonia Mancera, strangled, pregnant
3 — p.355 — Unidentified — about 30 yrs — Feb 1993 — found in alley in city center, stabbed, beaten
4 — p.356 — Isabel Urrea — Mar 1993 — reporter for radio station El Heraldo del Norte, shot
5 — p.357 — Isabel Cansino — Apr 1993 — prostitute, beaten
6 — p.358 — Unidentified — about 35 yrs — May 1993 — found in a dump, worker, pregnant, strangled, raped
7 — p.359 — Guadalupe Rojas — 26 yrs — May 1993 — worker, shot by boyfriend
8 — p.360 — Unidentified — 25 or 26 yrs — May 1993 — found on the slopes of Cerro Estrella, stabbed, raped
9 — p.370a — Father Juan Carrasco — May 1993 — killed by the Penitent
10 — p.370b — Caretaker, church of Nuestro Señor Jesucristo — May 1993 — killed by the Penitent
11 — p.372 — Emilia Mena Mena — June 1993 — found in a dump, raped, stabbed, burned
12 — p.373 — Unidentified — between 23 and 25 yrs — June 1993 — discovered by school janitor, stabbed
13 — p.374 — Margarita López Santos — 16 yrs — June 1993 — body found near a shack, cause of death unknown
14 — p.389 — Unidentified — Sep 1993 — found in an abandoned car, strangled, raped
15 — p.390 — Gabriela Morón — 18 yrs — Sep 1993 — maquiladora worker, killed by her boyfriend
16 — p.391a — Marta Navales Gómez — 20 yrs — Oct 1993 — found in a dump, strangled, raped
17 — p.391b — Elsa Luz Pintado? — found near the highway
18 — p.392a — Andrea Pacheco Martínez — 13 yrs — Nov 1993 — kidnapped from school, strangled, raped
19 — p.392b — Felicidad Jiménez Jiménez — 50 yrs — Dec 1993 — stabbed at home by her son, Ernesto
20 — p.399 — Unidentified — Jan 1994 — found in the desert off the highway to Nogales, stabbed, raped
21 — p.400 — Leticia Contreras Zamudio — 23 yrs — early 1994 — prostitute
22 — p.402 — Penélope Méndez Becerra — 11 yrs — early 1994 –  kidnapped from school, strangled, raped, had a heart attack

Also killed:

p. 397 — The professional, a state judicial police inspector, who tried to kill Pedro Rengifo’s wife, is killed along with a man holding an uzi by Lalo Cura. Anyone else think this hit was orchestrated by Pedro Rengifo himself and was astonished when Lalo Cura “saved” his wife (actually botching the whole operation)?

Most of the women killed are said to have worked (or one can imagine would have worked) at the factories on the outskirts of town. But also two prostitutes are killed, and a male priest and sexton at a church in Santa Teresa. One or two women are killed in domestic violence disputes. One reporter is killed, supposedly because of a burglary, but it is easy to assume she could have been assassinated for covering the murder of women in Santa Teresa. Women who have long, straight, dark hair seem more susceptible to being murdered, who are often from foreign countries. An ominous black Peregrino or MasterRoad car kidnapped two different young girls from outside their schools. Can we guess this is the same black Peregrino that Amalfitano sees outside his home?

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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