More Notes on Roberto Bolano’s 2666

(See part one.)

Even as the second part (about Amalfitano, a peripheral character in the first section) begins, Bolano is already undermining the first section. In the story of pharmacist/teacher/literary enthusiast Amalfitano, citizen of Santa Teresa and general sad sack, Bolano gives a richer, more detailed portrait of life than anything on hand in the first section, and the specters of the four characters and their bedroom athletics quickly disappear in favor of the muddy and depressing history of Amalfitano. His wife, as it turned out, ran away from him and their daughter years ago to pursue a silly Bohemian existence of the sort that the first section bloodlessly presented, and Bolano presents it as being about as meaningful. (When she returns years later, she observes that Amalfitano has changed, and Amalfitano observes that she has not. She mistakenly takes it as a compliment.)

When Amalfitano begins to go a bit insane, the literary knowledge in his head jumbles itself incoherently, attempting to find a meaningful form and failing. He reads a book about a bizarre paranormal conspiracy theory. He dreams.

Failure and inadequacy replace the indulgence of earlier, but Bolano, with full certitude, tries to elevate the material to the level of truth. There’s a hard-boiled attitude to Bolano’s repeated myth-busting and proclaiming of the failures of the literary project and its world. The problem with such an attitude is that its effectiveness lies in the vividness of the portrayal, not with the attitude itself, or else people would be reading E.M. Cioran rather than Dashiell Hammett. And Amalfitano himself, unglamorous and earnest, is what makes it vivid. When the fourth section (about the murders) rolls around and Bolano abandons most of the embellishments for a flat recounting of the facts, he is at his best.

What remains from the first section are not the scholars (who, in a rather obvious move by Bolano, ridiculed Amalfitano for being a literary neophyte), but the small affair that one of the scholars had with a local girl, Rebeca, whom he used and tossed away while nursing his own romantic wound. Now Rebeca is part of the real world and he is not, and her life and the danger she is in, with girls like her being murdered constantly, remain in the air long after the scholars have been forgotten.

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