Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Bigger They Come

(Fair warning: 2666 ending spoilers directly ahead if you aren’t done yet.)

In a joke that couldn’t happen to a more deserving jerk, Klaus Haas’s giant turned out not to be so apocalyptic after all.  I mean, really, Archimbolde gets to Santa Teresa and…busts Klaus out of jail and goes on the lam?  Brings down the wrath of God?  What could possibly come of this (besides leading the critics to Santa Teresa)?  Archimbolde is not exactly going to have a lot of pull with the authorities.  Yet, despite that unfinished business, I found the end of 2666 disappointing for a reason with which I’m sure most others will disagree: too much closure.  It isn’t enough for Archimbolde to go to Santa Teresa (validating the critics), or even to have him meet Klaus Haas.  Haas has to be Archimbolde’s nephew.   

I think the root of the significance in this book to me had been its bagginess, the sense of all these interlaced events and people in the world that, nonetheless, resisted any sense of system.  It seems to be a novel about all these intangible threads holding its various parts together, and about a set of crimes interconnected yet not reducible to one cause, so that to come upon an ending that feels so concrete in its closure (not for the crimes, of course, but for Archimbolde’s story) feels like a bit of a betrayal of the novel’s erstwhile truth. 

At least one person I can’t recall has mentioned a sense of connection to Thomas Pynchon in 2666 and there was something of this for me too.  The Part About the Critics sets up this big hunt for Archimbolde that does not come out to much, but it also sets us as readers up to take over for the critics in their search, and the Table of Contents here tantalizingly offers as an endpoint The Part About Archimbolde.  Yet as the novel went on, it became less and less about Archimbolde, more and more about things the critics did not want to or could not see.  The desire for Archimbolde’s presence—the presence of the author, of genius—is mocked by the movement of the book up to the final section.  What this novel really needed, it seemed to me, was the kind of Pynchonian ending where loose ends aren’t tied up, the search is left unfinished.  To give us Archimbolde in the flesh, a traditional nineteenth-century novel of development at the end of this longer beast, is to in some sense validate the critics so scorned in the first part of the book.

Obviously Archimbolde was not going to remain entirely a mystery: a whole section on him lay ahead.  My feeling on this at first was that, by the time you get to this last part, Archimbolde seems so beside the point that reading his bildungsroman, something the critics would probably claw one another’s eyes out to be the first to do, would be a huge disappointment.  Instead, it’s just the little reward for making it so far that most would like it to be.  Yes, there are a lot of unpleasant parts to Archimbolde’s life, and the Santa Teresa crimes don’t fade entirely as the section keeps us thinking about possible thematic ties to the Holocaust, but at the end of it all this is a pretty delectable story, a scoop of ice cream to top off a meal.  I think I would have preferred it if he didn’t serve dessert this time around.

I think I  have one 2666 post left in me—and one that may actually undercut what I’ve said here, since the end may in fact raise a number of questions despite the feeling of closure.  In the meantime, a question: I’ve now read The Savage Detectives and 2666.  It may be a bit down the line, but I plan to read some more Bolaño.  What should be next?


  1. Oh, there are so many suggestions. Zadie Smith has a great collection of essays that just came out. You could start on Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle. Or maybe Gormenghast? I hear there's talk of a Moby Dick group read. And if you've never read Housekeeping, you really should.

    Oh, wait... more Bolaño you say? Sorry. Got nothing for you.

  2. You can try out the shorter novels. By Night in Chile, Distant Star, and The Skating Rink will be good follow-ups.

  3. Thanks Dan, and Rise. I love Moby Dick, but having read it a couple of times, I might just look in now and then to see what is happening with the group read. I've really enjoyed Zadie Smith's novels, but I think I've somehow only read one of her essays. And Marilynne Robinson I've meant to give a shot for a while now.

  4. I cast my vote for Distant Star. Nazi Lit is also an interesting reads, although it might seem kind of slight after 2666 (maybe that's a selling point!). Also, just last night I picked up a brand spanking new copy of a very short Bolano novel I'd never seen before, called Antwerp. The blurb on the back reads:"The only novel that doesn't embarrass me is Antwerp--Roberto Bolano"

  5. This was my first Bolaño, so I've got no suggestions, but I wanted to agree with you on the feeling of disappointment in how conventional and somehow clear the final part is. The Gay Recluse says the last pages "practically weep with a sense of obligation" to tie things up, and that sounds about right. I wouldn't go so far as to say it feels like a betrayal of the rest of the book, but it certainly does feel out of place and regressive (in terms of form).