"The melancholy folklore of exile," as Roberto Bolano once put it, pervades these fourteen haunting stories. Bolano's narrators are usually writers grappling with private (and generally unlucky) quests, who typically speak in the first person, as if giving a deposition, like witnesses to a crime. These protagonists tend to take detours and to narrate unresolved efforts. They are characters living in the margins, often coming to pieces, and sometimes, as in a nightmare, in constant flight from something horrid. In the short story "Silva the Eye," Bolano writes in the opening sentence: "It's strange how things happen, Mauricio Silva, known as The Eye, always tried to escape violence, even at the risk of being considered a coward, but the violence, the real violence, can't be escaped, at least not by us, born in Latin America in the 1950s, those of us who were around 20 years old when Salvador Allende died." Set in the Chilean exile diaspora of Latin America and Europe, and peopled by Bolano's beloved "failed generation," the stories ofLast Evenings on Earth have appeared inThe New Yorker andGrand Street.
"A minor poet disappears without leaving a trace, hopelessly stranded in some town on the Mediterranean coast of France. There is no investigation. There is no corpse. By the time B turns to Daumal, night has fallen on the beach; he shuts the book & slowly makes his way back to the hotel."
The last evenings on earth, shouldn't make sense, it's a book about failure, not the usual fireworks & all guns blazing failure I've come to expect from Bolano's work (The savage detectives, 2666). No this is wretched, abject - from the Latin "abjectus" meaning, cast away, this is the flotsam & jetsam of Latin- America, exiled from their own past. Individuals washed up on the shores of Europe, some having escaped torture & violence under General Pinochet's regime, yet having not really escaped, still wearing the chains, still bearing the scars, still living haunted lives of utter anonymity. Bolano also writes about the writers, poets and artists that history forgot, the ones who regardless of talent, pursued a life of dedication to their muse, the ones who sacrificed themselves upon its altar & left not a blood stain.
"Have you found Henri Lefebvre? asks M. She must be still half asleep, thinks B. Then he says no. She has a pretty laugh. Why are you so interested in him? she asks, still laughing. Because nobody else is, says B. And because he was good."
These characters work as dishwashers, send poems to obscure magazines, enter competitions for a pittance of a prize, for the one chance that a light may illuminate their genius, that some voice will sing out & proclaim their worth. Lives are spent travelling from A to B, but B's never different, it's the same cheap hotel, the same bar filled with the same shades, just a different costume on the same whore .
These stories fall into two categories, they are either 1st person recollections, where the narrator recounts an episode from his past - a chance encounter, meeting old friends or enemies - or 3rd person accounts of a writer named B, (Belano/Bolano). Exiled from his homeland & subsisting on the margins of his adopted country, of time spent travelling in search of something long lost & settling for some short lived comfort, some transient shelter. Yet at the heart of these tales, this is just one story, that is not a criticism of the book. This is the story of artists, writers & poets exiled from all that could be called home. Individuals caught in their own private quests, hunted by nightmares, always on the edge. These are chased shadows no longer relevant.
Despite all this, the book is addictive. By the time you've started the third story, you will belong to these characters, it will matter what happens to them. The French poet who shone in the resistance only to fadeout as a teacher in some remote village, the exiled writer who goes home to recover his sons body then languishes & dies, or just following Ann Moore's life from the age of 20 - 40. It will matter, fold the corner on the page, put the book down, leave the room & it will be there, just behind your eyes, in between your thought processes, it will be the beat that paces your journeys, it's shadow will dog your footsteps & your sleeping self, will continue to turn the pages.
"There's nothing for me to do here, says B. This sentence will pursue him throughout the return journey like the headlights of a phantom car"
Although last evenings on earth is compiled from 2 previous collections (Llamadas Telefonicas & Putas Asesinas) of Bolano's, it doesn't feel bolted together, if there are joins, if in places it doesn't quite match, I couldn't find them. Yes it's fragmented, but the fault lines are those of the characters, the fractures are the human lives that he writes about.
"The secret story is the one we'll never know, although we're living it from day to day, thinking we're alive, thinking we've got it all under control and the stuff we overlook doesn't matter. But every single damn thing matters! Only we don't realize. We just tell ourselves that art runs on one track and life, our lives, on another, and we don't realize that's a lie."
Wonderful writing. Recommended reading.
The settings of these stories are in Chile, Mexico, Spain, and many other countries. It has a very international feel to it. Bolaño’s writing is fascinating. Without really enjoying many of the stories, I still felt compelled to read them. There is always something literary going on; perhaps that’s why they intrigued me. However, many of the stories just had too much violence and seediness for my taste–otherwise the book would have had a higher rating from me.
I’m curious about The Savage Detectives, though, and I may try to read that one in 2008.
Bolano is an excellent writer - 2666 was a surprisingly readable 900 pages - and nothing has changed here. When he sets about writing a story that stands alone and is free of his self-insert ruminations then the results are good. Sensini, Phone Calls and the title story demonstrate this and are the best of the bunch. Only one short is actively bad - I found nearly nothing redeemable in Ann Moore's Life. The rest of the collection is neither here nor there, well written but ultimately hollow.
Bolano was certainly a great author but, on this evidence, the short story wasn't his forte. Best to stick with his full length novels and novellas.
This collection is earthy and gawdy - I particularly liked Sensini and Dentist - some of the other stories were less memorable.
The Eye and Gomez Pallacio were my favorites.
Sensi story highlights the need for a master as well as a master's need for a novice.
Leprince and the need for bad writers
In his heart, Leprince finally accepted his lot as a bad writer, but he has also come to understand and accept that good writers need bad writers if only to serve as readers and stewards. He also knows that by saving or helping several good writers he has earned the right to sully clean sheets of paper and make mistakes. P 25
Enrique martin and our lost hope and dreams
"...just like me and my correspondents, coming to the end of our youth, coming to accept the end of our dreams." p 33
A literary adventure and phone calls seem to be part of something unfinished. Those are unsatisfying
The grub sounds like the beginning of The Savage Detectives. college kid not going to class spends time reading and meets carborca and the knife.
Anne Moores life seems autobiographical, and like the literary adventure and phone calls, unsatisfying.
The Eye is beautiful story about the horrors of violence of the worst kind, and the crying foe those lost to it.
Gomez pallacio is about the desert. It reminded me of the scene in 2666 where the detectives are riding in the desert as if they were on a sea with the cities as idlandsl as if the desert would swallow them up. I love the desolation in the story and the loneliness. The reflection of yourself at the time of a lonely ddperate period and to look yourself in the mirror, that scared kid you were.
When Paul was gone, Anne and Rubén shut themselves in the bungalow and spent three days in a row making love. Anne's money soon ran out and Rubén went back to selling drugs outside The Frog. Anne left the bungalow and went to live at Ruben's house in a suburb from which you couldn't see the ocean. The house belonged to Rubéns grandmother, who lived there with her eldest son, Ruben's uncle, an unmarried fisherman, about forty years old. Things soon took a turn for the worse. Ruben's grandmother didn't like the way Anne walked around the house half-naked. One afternoon, when Anne was in the bathroom, Ruben's uncle came in and propositioned her. He offered her money. Anne, of course, refused the offer, but not firmly enough (she didn't want to offend him, she remembers) and the next day Ruben's uncle offered her money again in return for her favors. Without realizing what she was about to unleash, Anne told Rubén. That night Rubén took a knife from the kitchen and tried to kill his uncle. The shouting was loud enough to wake the whole neighborhood, Anne remembers, but strangely nobody seemed to hear. Luckily, Ruben's uncle, who was a stronger and more experienced fighter, soon disarmed him. But Rubén wasn't about to give in, and threw a vase at his uncle's head. As bad luck would have it, just at that moment his grandmother was coming out of her room, wearing a very bright red nightgown, the likes of which Anne had never seen. Ruben's uncle dodged the vase and it struck his grandmother on the chest. The uncle gave Rubén a beating, then took his mother to hospital. When they returned, the uncle and the grandmother marched straight into the room where Anne and Rubén were sleeping and gave them two hours to get out of the house. Rubén had bruises all over his body and could hardly move, but he was so scared of his uncle that before the two hours were up, they had packed all their gear into the car.
It's a very good book at times, and at others, e.g. when Bolaño endlessly name-drops authors and books, it gets tedious as hell. At that point I wish he'd had an editor to rein him in a lot.
Some sentences, though, are just great:
One day Anne's love for Tony ran out and she left Seattle.
A lot goes on in very little time:
One night, while they were making love, Bill suggested they have a child. Anne's reply was brief and calm, she simply said no, she was still too young, but inside she could feel herself starting to scream, or rather, she could feel, and see, the dividing line between not screaming and screaming. It was like opening your eyes in a cave bigger than the Earth, Anne remembers. It was around then that she had a relapse and the doctors decided to operate again.
In total: a very worthy read.