The Part about the Crimes pp.353-493: (Un)Focusing Our Attention
All the hype about this book, and (in the one-volume, 890pp. version) all the preparation in the previous sections, have been to tell us that this section is about the murders of the women of Santa Teresa/Ciudad Juarez. So why does our omniscient narrator seem to have trouble focusing on them?
Bolaño the author has made a pretty important decision so far: we will only know what his detectives know. This is almost but not quite the same as saying that we only know what the community of Santa Teresa knows. Not quite: we follow very closely the Huntsville sheriff Harry Magaña, for instance, even though as we’ve seen he ends up killed by the men who may have also disappeared Elsa Fuentes (who told him about Miguel Montes, who seems to have been involved in murdering Lucy Anne Sander, but some of those links may be false). How he dies cannot be common knowledge in Santa Teresa. In the most bizarre case of “being a detective = getting the P.O.V.,” we actually get a few paragraphs from the point of view of Klaus Haas himself (pp.488-90), including a dream, a paragraph of how he’s angry enough to kill two of his cellmates, Frafán and Gómez, and ending with Haas’s phone conversation to Sergio González that while he’s in prison he will need enough time to find out who is really killing the women of Santa Teresa –i.e., he claims to be a detective too. So if Bolaño wants us to hear what a person is thinking, that person has to become a detective. (That we have no federal police, judiciales, as point-of-view narrators is damning: as Epifanio, the city policeman who cracks the one case they hand to him by discovering Klaus Haas, says, the judiciales do no investigating (462).)
What follows from this decision, which is moving in its own way, is that the dead women can never speak for themselves. In Mexican fiction ghosts talk all the time (Bolaño has written one or two ghost-narrator stories too), but so far we have no stories of women and their lives up to and including their murders (significantly, again the only exception so far is Lucy Ann Sander, the only American woman killed); and we don’t have any detailed description of the mourners they leave behind. (Most of the non-fiction accounts by women documentarists and journalists spend great amounts of time with grieving mothers and girlfriends.) Yes, this reinforces the sense we have that men and women in Mexico live in utterly separate spheres, and that the novel has a male narrator who has no access to the female sphere, even though Bolaño of course knows that Mexican men and women share space in the maquiladoras and the discos and the bedrooms. But it’s as if they don’t share space: the sexual relationship between Juan de Dios Martínez and the asylum director Elvira Campos excludes confidences. The only “woman detective” so far is Florita Almada, the seer, who doesn’t begin her career until she is a childless widow. Maybe she’ll be able to see into the bones of the dead women and tell us about them, but so far her function is to tell us other things.
So our attention is focused on what the detectives focus on. But this is Bolaño’s big point so far: no one seems to be able to keep his focus on the dead women. My favorite, saddest example so far: pp.455-63, “In August 1995, the bodies of seven dead women were found”: the sentence is followed by a visit of two Americans to investigate, not the death of Lucy Anne Sander but the disappearance of Harry Magaña, then the second visit of Florit Almada to the radio station is narrated, also Lalo Cura’s being informed that the Pedro Rengifo he’d been a bodyguard for was a narco, and then only then the narrator gets down to narrate the women’s deaths–and he only narrates the finding of six corpses, not seven.
The more entertaining version of the easy distractibility of the detectives is the opening story of El Penitente, which is fun until he kills a priest, and even then, it still stays kind of fun. The title is, “The Part About the Crimes” –why do we have to dwell on the tragic unsolved crimes? Why not look at the wacky unsolved crimes too? Instead?
Obviously, this makes us detectives too. But we can’t investigate the material on our own –although I think Bolaño does want us, like the readers of an old-fashioned Agatha Christie or crime procedural, to make our guesses as to Whodunit, or who did which murders (e.g., if La Vaca’s name is in Elsa Fuentes’s address book (447), does that mean that we should retrospectively distrust the story of the two drunk musician friends who killed her in a wrestling match (417-9), and really her death was about drugs and/or something else?)–. And since we can’t, well, what sort of details are we supposed to be sifting through, to what end?
Enough for now–
Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.