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The Part About Fate: Plots

Since this is the last part of the novel that I read two years ago before I got distracted (and daunted by the length of the next two parts), I already knew that I really liked this part, but wouldn’t have a lot to say about it; probably that’s why I did a separate post about Amalfitano earlier this week.  When I like narrative but don’t have a lot to say about it, that’s because I’m attracted to its plot.

After a section, on Amalfitano, that is noticeably short on plot, except for the first third (narrating the decomposition of Amalfitano’s marriage and his wife’s obsession), this part is short on plot in the first third, in the US, followed by two thirds that are quite full of the traditional mechanics of plot:  we have a likable protagonist who gets mixed up in one of the seamier levels of the sports-entertainment industry in Santa Teresa, and there he meets and falls in love with a girl we’re also already inclined to like, and behaves chivalrously in rescuing her from a dangerous place, thus endangering himself, and in what is a subplot in this section, Rosa and Oscar’s plight is related to the femicides which are the most obvious sign of evil in this world.  The denouement is, once again, deferred or postponed (as has been the case in the other Parts):  Oscar and Rosa are probably in the clear, but by accompanying Guadalupe Roncal to interview the American convict accused of the femicides, they are risking that the various Mexicans that might be chasing them will catch up with them.

{For those of us who read everything except the plot, there are some juicy bits in this section, although I had forgotten every one of them from my readings two years ago –I think a strong plot keeps you from holding on to the non-plot elements of a book, at least at times–.  It’s tempting to see the inclusion of “Bartleby” vs. Moby Dick in the defense of Long Messy Books at the end of Part Two to be a sort of defense-preparation for Barry Seaman’s sermon in Part Three (246-256), which stands in a gonzo relation to this novel as the Sermon at the Seamen’s Church stands in relation to Moby Dick.  The two murals, of the one in Detroit with the black seeming-clown and the word “Fear” in the center (241) versus Charly Cruz’s Virgin of Guadalupe who has one eye open that follows Oscar wherever he goes in the garage (320, 324), are I suppose the comparison how the North-South’s marginalized express themselves (although one is public, and one is private); in between are all the pictures of the boy and the burro in the restaurant hell, El Rey del Taco (312).  Other Significant Patches that I liked and remark on here are the anecdote Oscar hears on the plane about the man who almost drowns in a shipwreck but is rescued because a plane crashes in the lake near him (240-1), and the magic disk that Chucho Flores and Amalfitano discuss, about the laughing little old drunk who is behind bars, or maybe he’s not (334-5; Rosa’s sense that Chucho’s face is momentarily vacant as he takes in Amalfitano’s ironic response to the story is also extremely interesting.]

But, I repeat, in this section I was most grabbed by the plot, and the conventional way plot and characterization and ambiance and mood all dovetail to make us turn the pages. Even the ironic touches –that the boxing match Fate was dragged down to cover was over in two rounds and one paragraph– also sets in the reader’s mind as appropriate.  As to the characterization of Oscar:  Bolaño is aware that Fate is a sort of anachronism, attached to an old medium and to studying the Black Panthers and other outdated causes, and this can justify having a protagonist who is not supposed to be a typical African-American of his generation (I had forgotten the scene of the Muslim Brotherhood marching underneath the banner of bin Laden (292-4) –it’s one of the handful of touches that remind us that Bolaño never lived in the US, since if such a Brotherhood had really marched in public in Bush-Giuliani’s New York 2002 the police would have forbidden them from marching, period; he’s sharp enough to know that at least some of the group would be FBI plants.)  My favorite touch in characterizing Fate:  Charly Cruz talking about how we’ve lost the sense of the sacred, the proof being we don’t respect going to the movies any more, and Fate thinking that the closest he can get to the sacred is his respect and love for female beauty, such as Rosa’s (314-6).

Although I’m interested in how he goes about characterizing Fate, he’s enough like other Bolaño heroes that he doesn’t surprise me much.  In that sense Rosa Amalfitano is the more interesting character, or how he characterizes her is more interesting.  First he introduces her as simply a truly beautiful woman, from Fate’s perspective –and since her friend’s name is also Rosa, the implication is that she’s to be compared and contrasted with a Mexican girl who looks like a prostitute, as Fate indeed does. Rosa and Oscar are clearly of a different class than the dangerous bozos around them, but for the next forty pages we see elements indicating that she has adjusted to her milieu more than we wish she had (I think we’re also supposed to see her in those tawdry scenes the way that her father would have seen her, since we have read a whole part about him); the final moment in which she underestimates how dangerous a scene she is in, but stays for the cocaine (Bolaño lets us also suspect that Fate’s love-chivalry is exaggerating the physical danger that Rosa is in that night); and then, after the getaway, Rosa gets the sort of retrospective narration (326-339) that actually reminds me of her mother’s letters to Amalfitano in the last part, a supposedly focalized narration that becomes unmoored from her own narrating situation as the omniscient voice takes over.

As for ambiance and mood, well, it’s hard for a novelist to decide how to represent a space in which violence against women is almost casual.  the scene at the discotheque, where everyone sees a man knock a woman to the ground but only Oscar tries to do something about it, but is prevented by someone (317-8); these memories are a sort of segue to the generically dangerous place, Charly Cruz’s house and the fourth man who doesn’tt speak English and Charly’s TV room, which is a bunker without windows, and where Oscar is shown a video of a three-way rape where supposedly the actress is inadvertently turned on by it, before she turns into a corpse (320-1; Rosa Méndez also can’t really distinguish between danger and sexiness, although she thinks that sex with policemen is like sex with a mountain and sex with a narco is like sex with the desert air (328-9)).

This time around, the “plot-enigma” that needs to be cleared up is when the first paragraph of this Part is being thought.  It certainly is implied, since Oscar is in pain, in “a dark, vaguely familiar Aztec lake” (231), that it’s either a nightmare we never read about during this section, or, more likely, something that happens to him after the section that we’ve read so far.  But since this is as far I read the first time, I can’t even coyly hint that that’s how we’re supposed to interpret it.  Tune in next week!  Or maybe we won’t know ’til Part Five!  Or maybe we’ll never know!


July 19, 2012 - Posted by | 2666


  1. I think that mural is supposed to echo the Edwin Johns painting (a circle of portraits around a central horror, in this case the word “fear”). And I definitely get the sense of spiraling inwards as we progress here, from Europe to Amalfitano to this part, which begins to touch on the murders for the first time.

    Contrast that feeling of circling inward toward the subject with what the expert on serial murders says about the city of Santa Teresa (p. 267), about how everyone living there is outside society. We are also moving down the socioeconomic ladder with each section, from the critics at the very top of the ivory tower to the professor hanging out in its lowest story to the freelance journalist. Interesting that we still haven’t actually gotten into the working class yet, and I am not sure that we ever will.

    Also obviously not a coincidence that the American convict is a very tall German man.

    Am I wrong in thinking it’s not totally clear what danger Rosa Amalfitano is in, or that they fully understand the nature of what they’re fleeing?

    Worth noting for the coming section: the black Peregrino on p. 343. Googling suggests Peregrino isn’t a real make of car, so we can have no way of knowing how common it might be.

    Another little detail that I liked was the fact that there are vultures hanging out on the Mexican border, huddling against the cold (272).

    Comment by Josh Malbin | July 20, 2012

  2. 1. I like the idea of comparing the Detroit mural and the Johns painting. Both are imagined to be self-portraits of the artist. The little black man who interrupts all the work scenes is not an “investment” in order to become famous and rich, the way the mummified hand is; these people will never be rich and famous, there is no path up the social ladder for these Detroit characters. And the black man is sort of a clown, but he represents or is motivated by fear. I think Bolaño has read Ralph Ellison and Ishmael Reed more deeply than I have –their irony and self-splittling sounds like the equivalent of this mural.

    2. The expert on serial murders is also a roman-à-clef character, according to the other blogs: “Arthur Kessler” is actually Robert K. Ressler, who invented the “science” of investigating serial killers. But I have no reason to believe that he shares “Kessler’s” shockingly arrogant opinion of the residents of Santa Teresa.

    3. We haven’t got to the working classes yet, but we are on mighty low rungs of the sports-entertainment world when we meet the sparring partners of Merolino, and Rosa Méndez is, like a lot of professional girl friends, of uncertain class.

    4. I think they’re running away from the man who had every reason to believe that he was going to get laid by Rosa Amalfitano, when Oscar knocked him out and stole his gun and his girl. Yes, Chucho Flores seems to be over Rosa, but his raging jealous tantrum at the cafeteria is supposed to be typical, I think, of all of the men at Charly Cruz’s house. Meanwhile, the other Rosa didn’t answer her phone, and neither did Amalfitano: it’s not at all clear how many people the machos of the Cruz house are willing to take down.
    On the plus side, although no one brings it up: both Oscar and Rosa have foreign passports. One of the reasons the Ciudad Juárez femicides went on so long under US radar is that none of the murdered women were Americans. In the novel so far, nobody seems to think that that would protect Rosa.

    5. My turn for free-association (K’sky is thinking in Hebrew): Peregrino means Pilgrim in Spanish, which is part of the nomad/questing motifs in the novel; but I actually thought of the peregrine falcon (there are falcons used wittily in Bolaño’s Nocturne of Chile), and the Ford Falcon was the make of car notoriously used to disappear people in Argentina.

    Comment by poc2666 | July 21, 2012

  3. On 3: we have come into contact with the working classes, but we haven’t gotten anything from a working class person’s POV yet. But I guess we hadn’t even really come into contact with them in the first two sections, except fleetingly.

    Comment by Josh Malbin | July 22, 2012

  4. Barry Seaman=Black Panther and Chicago 7er Bobby Seale. I hadn’t thought of it until Eating Ribs–Seale had published a BBQ cookbook when I got his autograph at Abbie Hoffman’s memorial.

    Comment by Josh K-sky | July 22, 2012

  5. Am I wrong in thinking it’s not totally clear what danger Rosa Amalfitano is in, or that they fully understand the nature of what they’re fleeing?

    Oh good, this was confusing to me as well.

    Comment by Josh K-sky | July 24, 2012

  6. […] likely, as Pat says, that Bolaño has read his Ellison and Reed — Oscar Fate also strikes me as a Walter Mosely […]

    Pingback by 2666: Where Everybody Knows You’re Nobody « The Weblog | July 24, 2012

  7. Omnibus:

    1. The hilarious, racist account of how Mexican elites are improving the race and winning taller presidents by raping from the top down instead of the bottom up. (287)

    2. The dialogue between Fate and his editor. “‘You, nigger, want to coucher avec moi, but you’ve forgot the voulez-vous” “Stick Count Pickett up your black faggot ass and ask him to watch it for you” (293-5). Is this as note-perfect in Spanish?

    3. Have reporters been killed in connection with the Juarez murders? (p. 297)

    4. Acceleration, desire and its absence. Fate thinks about his mother in Harlem (p. 302):

    But then peacefulness isn’t just peacefulness, thought Fate. Or what we think of as peacefulness is wrong and peacefulness or the realms of peacefulness are really no more than a gauge of movement, an accelerator or a brake, depending.

    And considers the relative beauty of the two Rosas (p. 316):

    And why am I so sure that if a Hollywood actress appeared all of a sudden Rosa Amalfitano’s beauty would fade? What if it didn’t? What if it sped up? And what if everything began to accelerate from the instant a Hollywood actress crossed the threshold of El Rey del Taco?

    5. This is not exactly a rule of fiction, but it’s generally a bad idea to have two characters with the same name. Although that’s worse in screenplays.

    6. Rosa Méndez: Boleros are true. Rosa Amalfitano: Boleros seem right, but they’re actually full of shit. QV Amalfitano’s theories on jet lag, and turning the pain of others into art.

    7. The difference between fucking a policeman and a narco.

    8. Rosa’s reverse memory of Charly (p. 333): “as if time, in the classic embodiment of an old man, were blowing incessantly on a flat gray stone covered in dust, until the black grooves of the letters carved into the stone were perfectly legible.”

    9. “All of Mexico was a collage of diverse and wide-ranging homages.” (p. 339)

    Comment by Josh K-sky | July 24, 2012

  8. Re: 3: Although I hadn’t heard of any reporters being killed in relationship to the femicide reporting between 1993 and 2003, it’s certainly true that shitloads of them are being killed now, since the “war on drugs” campaign of 2006-2012; and as you’ll see in the next section, part of Bolaño’s novel suggests that we can’t clearly distinguish between motives for murder in Mexico. Re:4: Yes, there’s some amazing stuff about speeding up and slowing down in this section that I didn’t really catch–

    Comment by poc2666 | July 24, 2012

  9. I was talking to Joe Wessely about the Juarez murders and he said he thought of them as precursors to the drug war murders going on recently. More or less what he said was that the drug cartels looked at Juarez, saw how easy it was to get murder with impunity, and thought, “Shit, let’s take this nationwide!”

    Comment by Josh Malbin | July 25, 2012

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