The Part Where I Don’t Finish The Book

Sometimes I wonder if people read Roberto Bolano so they can feel smarter, or important, or because they like to brag they’ve read an “important” book.

I tried to read The Savage Detectives once. The layout had the story broken into chunks, and I enjoyed the first chunk. The second one lost me.

2666 was the opposite.

I asked for this book for Christmas a few years back. It sat on my bookshelf, unread, for at least a year before I picked it up, mostly due to its heft. The page count clocks in at over 900 pages. I’d read Part 1: The Part About the Critics two years ago. My goal last week was to finish the damn thing. Sadly, I failed.

2666 is a novel in five parts, which are interconnected yet can be read separately. I made it through Parts 1 (again), 2, 3, and halfway through Part 4: The Part About the Crimes.

Part 4 is why I wanted to read this damn book in the first place.

Since the early 90’s, hundreds of women have disappeared and later been found dead in and around Ciudad Juarez, a border town in the state of Juarez. So far Mexican authorities haven’t been able to settle on a motive or a perpetrator, concerned more with the escalating violence between the drug cartels. For all intents and purposes, the murders stopped in 2003, and the body count totaled more than 4,000.

2666 explores one possibility for these murders. The crimes are first mentioned in Part 1, and the details are parceled out over the different sections, growing in detail the deeper you get into the book. Set in the fictional northern Mexican town of Santa Teresa, the women start turning up dead in 1993. Some murderers are arrested; sometimes no suspect is ever found.

Bolano died before the book was published, and as I mined the text for these bits, trying to find something to latch on to that would make me keep reading, I had to wonder if he had the same problem Stieg Larsson’s Millenium trilogy had: no one wants to edit out too much for fear of taking away from the story the author is trying to tell, resulting in an overly long book.

But Bolano desperately needed an editor.

It takes a great deal of patience to find the thread of the murders buried in the morass of words he dumps on you right away. Part 1 was unnecessary in its entirety, Part 2 only slightly more needed. It’s only by the time you reach Part 3: The Part About Fate, that the action starts to pick up. A reporter by the name of Oscar Fate travels to Santa Teresa to cover a boxing match and ends up learning about the murders. His request to write that story instead of the one he’s been assigned is turned down. He hooks up with a fellow reporter who has had the story handed to her after her predecessor was murdered, and learns more about the crimes haunting the city.

This a book that brings to mind the word “dogged”. Dogged determination (is that redundant?) is all that’s driving me through Part 4, but even that may not be enough for me to keep going until the last page has been read. Run on sentences and heaps and heaps of paragraphs that do little to further the main plot distract you until you’re dizzy and frustrated and start thinking the book would make an excellent doorstop or paperweight. The critical success the novel has attracted makes me wonder if it’s simply an attempt on the critics part not to speak ill of the dead, or if I’m just missing something. I feel like I need tweezers to pick out each tiny detail in Parts 1 through 3 regarding the string of murders.

I am smarter than this book. But this book makes me think my IQ has fallen off the bottom of the chart.

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