rating: 4 of 5 stars
Finding a "new" author about which to obsess is a howl-at-the-moon things for me, and the moon over Roberto Bolaño is fat and thick and glowering. The existential anti-dramas that unfold in these short stories are concerned mostly with writers seeking out other writers, artists struggling to pounce on their muse, and lonely souls that orbit around them. It is internalized, shuddery stuff, but is vividly written in a way to give credence to melancholy's warmth.
The stories about B. and his pursuit of literary greatness form the core of the book - the protagonist wanders European, Chilean and Mexican plazas as lonely as those in de Chirico paintings. They are great stories that infuse the romanticism of the poets he lists and the jitters of Camus, but he real meat on this animal are "Anne Moore's Life", "Maricio ("The Eye") Silva", and the murderously powerful list "Dance Card" that closes the volume.
"Anne Moore's Life" finds Bolaño at what I suspect is his strength, squeezing a life story into a powerful stream that hits you like that of a spray-washer. Moore goes form innocent girl to purposely and tragically worldly woman at an alarming rate, like we are rapidly flipping through an album of pictures. "The Eye" is story within story within story, emanating from a horrible epicenter involving young eunuch prostitutes. Their story of the subject of a photographer, who is the subject of a writers, but the tragedy and involvement travels up the layers of distance from the unthinkable until everybody is involved, including you the reader.
In these stories, the narrator nearly always seeks someone out, be it a lover or an admirer, and they find them grow into and out of them like a garment and the person disappears, and this kind of road through life could get tedious were it not for Bolaño's controlled phrasing (or perhaps it is Chris Andrews' translation, one never really knows...) It is like he is walking the beach of a foreboding sea, leaving only the lightest of footprints.
The closing piece is "Dance Card" - a collection of 69 bullet points detailing a life of a poet seeking to engage in the Chilean revolution and the literature of the people - The People, all people and his people, and like with the rest of the stories, the success of the final outcome is unresolved, and the real meaning of life is in the striving.
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