Wednesday, May 5, 2010

2666's The Part About the Crimes and Literary Realism

I haven't posted much about it recently, but I just last week completed Roberto Bolano's 2666, participating in the group read hosted by I've avoided writing much about the book since January mostly because, after reading the superb recaps and analyses on that site, I felt like I didn't have much to add. Additionally, to be honest, I found the group read scheduling a little disorienting. It's been a little while since my college days concluded and I really haven't read on someone else's schedule since then. I don't know if I could have successfully completed 2666 (and I'm not sure that I even would have embarked upon this journey) without the support and scheduling of the group, but the read felt choppy at times. If I finished a section on a Wednesday, I would usually wait until Monday to begin the next week's portion. This type of scheduling may be better suited for a repeat reading. Something to think about.

But, now that I've completed the book, I'd like to think for a moment on the effect it had on me, the reader. I'm thinking specifically of The Part About the Crimes, the most famous, longest section, clocking in at nearly 300 pages. This part is a weaving narrative of many minor and major characters, but one of the recurring themes is a spate of crimes committed in the Mexican town of Santa Teresa throughout the mid-'90s. The crimes in question are very specific: young women are being raped and murdered. Around 200 of them. And they're described in graphic detail. Here's a representative paragraph:
In the middle of November, Andrea Pasheco Martinez, thirteen, was kidnapped on her way out of Vocational School 16. Although the street was far from deserted, there were no witnesses, except for two if Andrea's classmates who saw her head toward a black car, probably a Peregrino or a Spirit, where a person in sunglasses was waiting for her. There may have been other people in the car, but Andrea's classmates didn't get a look at them, partly because the car windows were tinted. That afternoon Andrea didn't come home and her parents filed a police report a few hours later, after they had called some of her friends. The city police and the judicial police took charge of the case. When she was found, two days later, her body showed unmistakable signs of strangulation, with a fracture of the hyoid bone. She had been anally and vaginally raped. There was tumefaction of the wrists, as if they had been bound. Both ankles presented lacerations, by which it was deduced that her feet had also been tied.
First, notice the writing style here. It bears the unmistakable mark of a police report, with the straightforward summary of violence. But more important than the content of this one paragraph is the cumulative effect of reading dozens of such reports. Even though other sections of the novel describe more quantitative deaths, the quality of the descriptions isn't nearly as graphic. The horrific murders of The Part About Archimboldi doesn't register in the same way as the murders of the women in Santa Teresa.

This is a tough, tough section to read. And it's intentionally written this way. James Wood speaks often about the necessary balance of realism and readability in fiction. The Part About the Crimes strained the limits of what I could read. But to achieve the realism needed for this section, Bolano had to push some boundaries here. Because, after all, he's describing the brutal real-life murders of Ciudad Juarez. This is supposed to hurt. It's the only way the author can get across the numbing repetition of these violent crimes. And, you know what, this section wouldn't have had the same effect if this was written any other way.

No comments: