Bolano 2004

On the Border, Arizona to Mexico
Image by cobalt123 via Flickr

I am making slow progress on this tome, although, not for a lack of enjoyment.  I am now in Part 2, which is centered on a character that now lives in Saint Theresa, supposedly near the Mexican-Arizona border.  The city is really modeled after Juarez about which I can think of many tangents to write about.  I like to think that seedy part of my past is still mainly in my past though.

Anywho, Bolano continues to foreshadow both the murders of women and the improper burials of those women.  He draws us into this unfolding story slowly and by the time we actually arrive at it I am sure we will be well aware of what is happening already.  Here is an example of what I mean:

When he recovered and looked at the other dinner guests he realized that no one had noticed the slight shadow, like a hastily dug pit that gives off an alarming stench. (220)

It is the simile that I want to focus on for the moment.  It is an odd simile because while it is structured as though describing something in the sentence, it does not.  A slight shadow, especially one unnoticed, is nothing like a hastily dug pit with an alarming stench.  Does the simile modify the lack of notice by the other guests?  A hastily dug pit that gives off an alarming stench is unnoticed?  Unlikely, which is why it is an ‘alarming’ stench.

What then is the purpose of this simile?  I am not too sure if a simile only functions in its traditional sense.  It does, however, set mood.  That is what I am noticing Bolano is really good at.  His paragraphs are structured with careful consideration.  They oftentimes feel artificial and forced and yet that is entirely consistent with what occurs in the paragraph.  I am impressed with the book and I can feel its penetration into my own writings.  I can feel my finger reaching for the comma button much more frquently than it used to.

The above simile is a potential site of contestation about whether or not it is good writing.  I think it is, if only because of its lack of conventionality.  A few pages later, though, Bolano gives us a passage that stopped me in my tracks, forcing me to reread several times for its glory.

He chose The Metamorphosis over The Trial, he chose Bartleby over Moby-Dick, he chose A Simple Heart over Bouvard and Pecuchet, and A Christmas Carol over A Tale of Two Cities or The Pickwick Papers.  What a sad paradox….  Now even bookish pharmacists [are pharmacists known as sites of courage and strength?] are afraid to take on the great, imperfect, torrential works, books that blaze paths into the unknown.  They choose the perfect exercises of the great masters.  or what amounts to the same thing: they want to watch the great masters spar, but they have no interest in real combat, when the great masters struggle against that something, that something that terrifies us all, that something that cows us and spurs us on, amid blood and mortal wounds and stench.  (227)

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