"Gómez Palacio" by Roberto Bolaño

New Yorker fiction -- August 8 & 15, 2005 issue

red light
There's been some sort of error. This story was supposed to be a poem, see. It wants to be a poem so bad that I actually feel sorry for it. It's like a kid squirming in a stiff, ill-fitting suit.

The speaker of the would-be poem has something in his past, some menacing trouble with the law, perhaps. He is vague and edgy. He can't sleep. That's all he'll tell us. He has problems connecting not just with the reader, but with the students in his poetry workshop: He can't even muster an answer to a student's question about why he writes poetry and how long he plans to write it.

Recapping where we are with the would-be poem: An emotionally dead narrator who doesn't communicate. And what else -- oh, he gets rides to work from the director of the workshop, who lets him drive even though he can't drive, and they listen to her best friend singing rancheras on the tape player, and after his last day as a teacher she takes him to some ridge in the desert where they watch distant car headlights make mysterious green lights. And then ... then he gets on a bus for Mexico City. The end.

We learn virtually nothing about the speaker of the would-be poem from his own thoughts, and virtually nothing about him through dialogue with the director, and virtually nothing about him through dramatic action. There is no build-up of tension, no crisis, no resolution of tension. No story. There's only one thing here: imagery. Which is fine -- in a poem.


dunkeys said...

Maybe that's the one that wants to be a big ambitious novel, not a poem. Check the NYTBR. I think the New Yorker has struck again.

Grendel said...

"story" = football
New Yorker = Lucy
me = Charlie Brown
"Aaaaaaaand ... Action!"

TLB said...

I feel like there was something about the green lights that was meant to be meaningful, but since we know nothing and see nothing, it doesn't really matter.

WTF? Did anyone else make heads or tails of it?

IneluctableQuack said...

The assumption that fiction should always be a story accounts for why most American fiction does not generate poignant literary discussions. In the New Yorker piece Bolano obviously has no interest in story, so why critique its lack of narrative elements?

And no, this is not an excerpt of his last novel. It is a piece from Putas Asesinas.

Satchel Rage said...

god I hate you. You're so stupid.

Ryan said...

obviously, bolaño's story is about sadness and emptiness, and the way the story is told mimics his preoccupations. yes, there's not a lot of action. what is hidden from view is what makes the story unique and intense. it is not the "usual" short story read these days.