November 28, 2008
The Endless Shipwreck
Sarah Kerr reviews Roberto Bolaņo’s 2666 in the NYRB:
Instead of completion we have the physical sense of being in the presence of a confounding object, which we are not yet done investigating. For a while yet, our brain feels rewired for multiplicity. This is not just a cultural or geographical question, though if 2666 contains a lesson it is that people are always from some confluence of factors more bizarre than a country. And it goes deeper than the question of multiple voices. We have eavesdropped on characters and then felt ourselves in the funny, sad, and dangerous process of needing and making meaning. Since there is no logical endpoint, we close with an image from the novel that is out of time. A world of “endless shipwreck,” but met with the most radiant effort. It’s as good a way as any to describe Bolaņo and his overwhelming book.
The “endless shipwreck” quote comes (of course) from the novel, describing the flawed but momentarily joyous world of a mother in Santa Teresa, Mexico (also a central location in Bolaņo’s The Savage Detectives) who moves her family to protect her children:
[B]y this point she didn’t trust the word of men and she worked hard and put in overtime and even sold sandwiches to her own coworkers at lunch until she had enough money to rent a little house in Colonia Veracruz, which was farther from Interzone than the shack by the trench, but it was a real little house, with two rooms, sturdy walls, a door that could be locked. She didn’t mind having to walk twenty minutes longer each morning. In fact, she almost sang as she walked. She didn’t mind spending nights without sleeping, working two shifts back to back, or staying up until two in the morning in the kitchen when she had to leave for the factory at six, making the chile-spiked sandwiches her fellow workers would eat the next day. In fact, the physical effort filled her with energy, her exhaustion was transformed into vivacity and grace, the days were long, slow, and the world (perceived as an endless shipwreck) showed her its brightest face….
Kerr’s reading of 2666 makes it sound like Moby Dick by way of Borges. Any way you slice it, sounds fantastic.