Sunday, March 29, 2009

Last Evenings on Earth

I feel a little like a bench player getting mop-up time in a blow-out by praising Roberto Bolano at this point, but after having spent the past two weeks reading racing through his early work published by New Directions, I am brimming with fervent enthusiasm for the man Susan Sontag summed up as "The most influential and admired novelist of his generation in the Spanish-speaking world".

If you were put-off by the sheer bulk of The Savage Detectives or 2666, one of his shorter works provides an ideal starting place. My recommendation for the uninitiated (or those who wish to delve deeper into Bolano's universe) would be to pick up his collection Last Evenings on Earth. The stories comprising this volume contain all of the themes of his later work - an obsession with poetry; madness and violence; casual love (with anything but casual consequences); literary feuding; and a brooding melancholy hanging over every action or inaction. The difference between these stories and Bolano's larger works rests in their concision and their heightened sense of power.

Not much happens in a Bolano story: a narrator (often Bolano's alter ego Arturo Belano or simply B.) travels, bumps into people, drinks in seedy bars, reads books of minor poets. The plot doesn't drive the stories, it's a vision of the world, the transformation of the ordinary into the extraordinary: a crystallization of vision.


Levi Stahl said...

You've hit it: these stories are Bolano in miniature, carrying the majority of his interests and concerns, and they're a great place to start.

The one aspect I think you don't quite touch on that's important--and crucial to the short story form--is his tendency toward the broken narrative, the tale that cuts off or diverts itself right when we expect some resolution. It's frustrating and compelling in equal parts.

And now to wait on the next batch of Bolano from New Directions!

Rachel said...

Amazing, amazing writer. He hasn't let me down yet.
I think Last Evenings on Earth is a great 'starter' book for people wanting to read Bolano... but watch out, he'll become an obsession pretty quickly.