So I'm reading Bolano's 2666 (#2666 for those following on Twitter) and I'm having all the thoughts I usually have when I'm only half an inch in to a three-inch book: can I do this? Do I want to? Can Bolano keep me interested for this many pages? Am I willing to go along for the ride and let all the other books (beckoning me, calling, whining) wait until I finish this journey?
I'm still wavering.
Because here's what I often hate in big novels: the introduction of completely new characters and completely new lives in each new section. I understand this may be vital for a big sprawling epic, but it wears on my reader-patience sometimes. Just as I'm into all the professors in section one, just as I'm rooting for them or hating them in equal parts, I have to drop them altogether and meet someone new. I hate meeting someone new in these situations. It's work. So the question, re-phrased, comes down to this: am I willing to put in the work this book requires?
Again, jury out.
I'll admit that I enjoyed The Part About the Critics. I will also admit, shamefully, that I skimmed much of The Part About Amalfitano. This may come back to bite me. There may have been critical facts, linkages, parallels drawn that I have now missed. I'll take my chances.
Lucky for Bolano (or, really, me I suspect), just as I was gearing up for Part Three - The Part About Fate (and just as I was rebelling against the thought of meeting yet another new character), I had the always-excellent moment in reading when you feel either that the writer has understood you completely or that you are at least getting some insight into them that you previously did not possess.
Here is the passage that triggered this reader-writer moment:
"One night, while the kid was scanning the shelves, Amalfitano asked him what books he liked and what book he was reading, just to make conversation. Without turning, the pharmacist answered that he liked books like The Metamorphosis, Bartelby, A Simple Heart, A Christmas Carol. And then he said that he was reading Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's. Leaving aside the fact that A Simple Heart and A Christmas Carol were stories, not books, there was something revelatory about the taste of this bookish young pharmacist, who in another life might have been Trakl or who in this life might still be writing poems as desperate as those of his distant Austrian counterpart, and who clearly and inarguably preferred minor works to major ones. He chose The Metamorphosis over The Trial, he chose Bartelby over Moby-Dick, he chose A Simple Heart over Bouvard and Pecuchet, and A Christmas Carol over A Tale of Two Cities or The Pickwick Papers. What a sad paradox, thought Amalfitano. Now even bookish pharmacists are afraid to take on the great, imperfect, torrential works, books that blaze paths into the unknown. They choose the perfect exercises of the great masters. Or what amounts to the same thing: they want to watch the great masters spar, but they have no interest in real combat, when the great masters struggle against something, that something that terrifies us all, that something that cows us and spurs us on, amid blood and mortal wounds and stench."
I can't help but think that this is Bolano's grand caveat, his way of throwing down the gauntlet for his reader: this is my big, sprawling, messy work that is unlike the perfection of my other, smaller, less ambitious works. It will be messy and it will be bloody and, dear reader, it will be work. Are you up to it? Because only the strongest among you can handle it. The rest of you can f-off and continue to celebrate my other books.
At least, that's how I see it, 239 pages into 2666. Can't decide if I love the 'tude or hate it...but I'm pressing on. Read into that what you will.