As of this posting, our friend Tucker should be right in the thick of Book 4 of Roberto Bolaño’s gigantic doorstop of a classic, 2666. Getting to that point in the novel is kind of like reaching mile 20 in a very grueling marathon. It’s hard, it hurts, and you’re wondering why you ever started the race in the first place. (At least that’s how this marathon-virgin imagines mile 20 of a marathon to be…)
Book 4 is titled “The Part About the Crimes” and comes in at around 350 pages in the hardcover edition. That’s not what makes it unusual, though. What makes it unusual is that Book 4 is essentially a 350 page catalogue of a series of violent murders that take place in Santa Teresa, Bolaño’s fictional stand-in for Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. (Read about the real-life inspiration here.)
The reader basically gets a full forensic report on each of the victims, all of them young women, including where they were found, how they were found, what they were wearing, how they were killed, and on and on and on. After the first few cases are explained in detail, one gets the impression this is just Bolaño being Bolaño. He’s using an abundance of random detail to build a picture that’s almost too real to be fiction- just as he does earlier in 2666, when he plunges headlong into page after descriptive page detailing the random dreams of his characters- dreams that seem to have no bearing on the story at hand, but which give the story a stamp of lifelike authenticity.
But when you get through a hundred pages of detailed murder descriptions, with no apparent signs of the author’s letting up, you can’t help but think there’s something else going on here. And by the time two hundred pages have rolled by, you’re convinced that he’s gone off the deep end- he’s no longer playing “fun with random details-” he’s cataloguing the endless stream of murders out of some sordid, neurotic necessity. It’s an obsession almost.
So, why does he do it?
I don’t have any idea. At least I didn’t when I first read it. But while researching an old highschool classmate-turned-poet, I stumbled across a very interesting theory that he puts forward here (see the last paragraph.) Here it is in a nutshell:
- There’s reason to believe that Bolaño sowed some wild oats in the northwest Mexico of his 1970s youth.
- It’s not inconceivable that he had an illegitimate child or two the exact same age as the victims in 2666 (or the real-life victims in Ciudad Juarez.)
- If Bolaño believed he might have had a daughter among the dead, then “The Part About the Crimes” could be his desperate search to find, name, connect with and honor her.
Still not sold? I'll admit it could be a stretch, but consider this: Bolaño dedicated 2666 to his daughters.
Mind blown, right?