Reviewed: The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño translated by Natasha Wimmer Picador, USA 2008
1) At first, this book was all sex with some poetry in between. Dirty, vulgar poetry. Poems by a 19 year old. Like a sneeze in a candy wrapper – sticky, sweet, trashy. The sentences were nothing special, but it had momentum and intrigue and I could relate.
2) That was the first ~140 pages. A daily diary running from early November to New Years Eve. And then this momentum turned into shape and I saw various hooks pry at the pages and pull them this way and that.
3) What I mean to say is it split into multiple narratives.
4) Eventually you realize there are 50+ characters. Key characters are cycled through somewhat evenly and then there are a some one offs.
5) This middle section is formatted in the style of an interview, though there is never a direct comment of question from the interviewer, only the interviewee. Similar in form to DFW’s Brief Interviews with Hideous Men.
6) I couldn’t help but think of True Detective – being walked through the familiar procedure of interrogation, except you don’t know what happened. Nor do you know why the interviewer is interested in what happened long ago. In The Savage Detectives its a maintained interest over the course of 20+ years (1973-1996). Or the interviewers’ sudden interest in the case of True Detective.
7) And when it got fractal, I kind of whimpered off for a bit. Not knowing what had happened between the outlaw poets who badmouthed the pimp and got away in a big white Impala car.
8) While writing this, I have yet to finish the book and idk that I’ll get to know. And if I do know, will they die?
9) Like in True Detective, these passages appear not so much as interrogation, but rather a swapping of stories. Story after story, as if it were sustenance, as if it kept you (the Reader) or they (the interviewer(s)) or them (Arturo Belano & Ulises Lima) alive. Like in One Thousand and One Nights where Scheherazade keeps the story going, one after another, so that the king won’t kill her. In this way, the word becomes sustenance, and there is an aversion to finality, to the period, that tiny dot of death…
10) Some of Belaño’s greatest tools are the comma, “one day”, and “anyway”,,, All of which help to avoid the end of a story.
11) This book not keeps death and finality at bay, but puts wind in the sails of life. Put simply, this book has made me feel joyous and excited about life. It has made me want read poetry (which I never do — and I haven’t finished it yet because I’ve been reading poetry in between (Susan Howe, Charles Bernstein, Jacques Roubaud, Vincente Huidobro)). It’s inspired me to write. But most of all its inspired me to talk and listen. It makes one think that the best time one can have is a good conversation that goes on and on and on.
12) A thought experiment: To add up all the exasperated breaths of a conversation, say, in the form of a balloon. How big would your balloon be? And what color? Would it lift you? Would it eclipse the sun?
13) I went home last weekend. Bolaño’s Chile, Bolaño’s Mexico City, is my Lincoln, NE. I was there for three nights, two days. The first night I was out till the sun was up – talking about everything and being nutty.
The second night I went home early, 5am. Both nights we hung out on a porch and drank beer and smoked. One by one other kids would show up – 2am, 3am, 4am. There were never more than 12 of us, but we had a ball of it.
14) “Problems were called surprises,” has been a mantra I’ve been trying to live up to and failing. But that’s ok, because “failure was called joy.” There is something to say for resilience. The resilience in an escaped laugh.
15) If you took all the heckles and haws of laughter and gave it to a clown for a balloon? what animal, figure, shape, planet would the clown give you back? Or would it be so unwieldy that it burst?
16) The first and last parts are in the style of a daily diary. My bday, Jan 16, is one of the shortest: “Belano has bought a knife.” A gift?
17) Other writers that have deeply affected my outlook on life, or, more fleetingly, my mood: on one side of the spectrum is Hermann Hesse and on the other is, yes, I hate to say it, Jack Kerouac. There’s something magical about them. Something magnetic.
18) Bolaño speaks to both of these: “The desperate reader (and especially the desperate poetry reader, who is insufferable, believe me) ends up by turning away from books. Inevitably he ends up becoming just plain desperate. Or he’s cured! And then , as part of the regenerative process, he returns slowly – as if wrapped in swaddling cloths, as if under a rain of dissolved sedatives – he returns, as I was saying, to a literature written for cool, seven readers, with their heads set firm on their shoulders. This is what’s called (by me, if nobody else) the passage from adolescence to adulthood. And by that I don’t mean that once someone has become a cool-headed reader he no longer reads books written for desperate readers. Of course he reads them! Especially if they’re good or decent or recommended by a friend. but ultimately, they bore him! Ultimately, that literature of resentment, full of sharp instruments and lynched messiahs, doesn’t pierce his heart the way a calm page, a carefully thought-out page, a technically perfect page does.”
19) I like to think this is an epic of friendship, one that mythologizes itself. Friends writing about friends. Friends publishing friends. It reminds me of the Oulipo – their self-presentation, exclusivity, and exercises such as Winter’s Jouney which serves as kind of rite of passage wherein members write a sequel to an ür short story by poster-child Georges Perec.
However, unlike the Oulipo, Bolaño is a one-man show.
20) Ulises Lima is one of the main characters and co-founder of the visceral realists. He is “someone who made no demands” and walked everywhere. Someone who has touched everyone in one way or another but can’t get it up. Who has give everyone a story to tell but never speaks to us.
21) If anyone wants to talk about poetry, writing, dinner plans, or whatever, DM me @condorgoodwing.
22) This book has made me want to talk more, write more, read more (especially poetry), walk more. All of which seem healthy, but then why is most everyone in the novel seem so unhealthy? Whether by age, depression, sanity, malnourishment, sleeplessness. Or am I the sick one for getting off on that?
23) There is a duel in the desert. Critic vs. Poet. No pens are involved.
24) Or should I say Critic vs. Prophet? For the poet challenges the critic after a premonition that the critic won’t take too well to some of his poems bad-mouthing him in the poet’s latest collection.
25) There are actually two duels.
The second begins with two cars facing each other.
One is full with five passengers.
The other has a driver and a passenger.
The duel ends with two cars standing still, each with a driver and a passenger.
Connor Goodwin lives in Chicago. His writing has appeared in HTMLGIANT, Chronopolis, and Another Chicago Magazine. Follow @condorgoodwing.