Barbara Henning

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Roberto Bolano

A month ago, I bought Roberto Bolano's novel The Savage Detectives, and I was so excited after reading it that I ordered all of his books translated into English. He's one of the best contemporary fiction writers I've read in a long time. The Savage Detectives is a 600 page novel about a group of off-center/underground poets in Mexico; he calls them the vicereal realists. Here and there in the middle of the book, poets we know and love are mentioned or appear--Ted Berrigan, for example. The narrative is fractured. In the middle section of the book--most of the book--the story takes place in and out of a series of oral histories with familiar and unfamiliar people appearing and disappearing. And little by little the mystery unfolds -- the life of a group of poets who believed in their poetics, their opposition to the mainstream ideology and poetry -- Octavio Paz figures large here--and this zig zag mission ends up being a search for a woman poet, one of the original vicereal realists who disappeared into Mexico. What I love about the book is the way the narrative voice unfolds so easily, the lives of the these poets on the borderline between violence, poverty and stability, reminding me a lot of many poets, artists and muscians I've known both in NYC and in Detroit, people who live their lives and poetry challenging the lies inherent in the status quo. Robert Belano and the character Arturo Beleno have had an extra difficult struggle and insight--some of them escaped after the coup in Chile and lived as exiles in Mexico and Spain and Africa.

Last night I finished a collection of his storiesLast Evenings on Earth; these stories are beautiful, starting out ordinary and then these incredible twists and turns, so fluid, the lives of poets, a poet, Roberto Bolano writing with the freedom of fiction. Like many of my friends, he died from liver damage, from hepititis.

At night when I finish one of his stories, I think, I love this guy, I really do love his sensibility, and I think, yes, yes, just write the truth and just like that, in the ordinary intimate voice in which you think and speak. In his stories, the fractured inventive form grows right out of the ordinary intimate, the ordinary fractured reality of the lives.


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