“A dark, vaguely familiar Aztec lake.” (Page 231)
Of all the imagery presented in this novel, 2666, the one image that burns brightest in my mind is that of an Aztec pyramid — as seen from the inside, like how it is described in this story, a hollowed inner temple vastly cavernous, a vertigo inducing abyss crowned by a prism of obsidian projecting down a spectrum of clean sunlight to bloody rose colored hues. Likewise, the third sentence of part three (above) sets the stage for a dream, and readers will have to decide whether it truly can be called a nightmare or not. Either way, this part may be numerically the middle or center of this five part story that is 2666, but it may also be the true start of the novel’s narrative chronologically; it is the most youthful and vibrant. Moreover, if the author is revealing any autobiography through his work, then this part surely breeds from Roberto Bolaño’s time spent in Chile and Mexico — and his earlier employment in writing.
The Savage Detectives earned Bolaño attention prior to 2666, and it has more of a Latin American style, stained in retrospective. Whereas parts two, one, and five feel more mature and more European — or modern too. Consider the numerical representation of Pi: 3.14159. A reader could take the story of 2666 and understand as well, if not better, if it was ordered in this way: the protagonists of part three and part one are creating the literature of part four, in that that the characters are on the periphery, partly responsible, while surely reading about the same lives listed in part four; simultaneously, the answer to part one’s call is found in part five. Basically, part three is the novel Bolaño wished to write in his youth, and 2666 is the novel he ended up writing as his Swan song.
Bolaño is expressly applying for recognition from critics and schools (both brick and mortar and those of thought) and other award-giving bodies that would ever seek to honor a writer or artist for such technical skill. Competitive writers seek to win contests and trophies like a coveted Nobel or Pulitzer. The academics both high and low in parts one and two are now presented Bolaño’s resume or portfolio. Fittingly, the title character of part three is named Oscar Fate, as if it is the fate of this author to be recognized as true and deserving of an award.
He surveys a slew of genres in American Literature ranging across the board, but oddly he does not play up a strong proletarian genre: Steinbeck’s Cannery Row or something akin to The Grapes of Wrath, or say a short story like Daniel Mainwaring’s Fruit Tramp. (Although, readers will find that Bolaño rectifies the omission and doubles down by adding another neglected genre, prison stories; in part four he frames the largest part of 2666, the long list of crime scene reports, with a prisoner’s narrative and the straightforward lives of factory workers.) The American, especially Modernist, take on Literature is sure to include these genres. Furthermore, a pulp story worthy of Quentin Tarantino or James Ellroy or Robert Rodriguez — who is explicitly included in 2666 as a character in part three, aside from the mention of Spike Lee — can be easily found in the cross country adventures of Oscar Fate. You name it: Alexi Sherman, Jack Kerouac, combined and you have all this mixed with a protagonist that also comes from Harlem — works as a journalist for an African American magazine and founded his career upon a Black Panthers article — and you just begin to scratch the surface of this mixed genre tribute.
Part three arrives through a sharp transition, not unlike a palette cleanser served in the process of a five course meal. The story takes at least two dozen pages to reconnect with the preceding two parts of the novel. Nevertheless, the grittiest 20th century writing is unleashed here, a cornucopia of tropes including gonzo “reportage” layered with a Western vibe and Hollywood’s shadow.
Oscar Fate, the main character, travels between New York City the Midwest and a Southwestern border town — by car and plane — and changes from a Leftist magazine writer into an investigative reporter, while trying to maintain a job as a sports writer covering a boxing match —as if that’s not enough, the pugilists are Mexican and American; it’s like Orson Welles and Hemingway fighting over allegorical metaphors of where the real manifest destiny of the American Spirit resides. The best noir can be found in part three; it’s dark and twisted and ultimately an appetizer for the headliner that is part four.
As a mega novel over a thousand pages long, it is important to note that the most pages are dedicated to the main course in part four. Part three could stand alone as a novel on its own, however the first two parts might not stack up if they were published separately. Consequently, the idea that 2666 is a future wasteland depends on where the listener stops the record, if it is played on a loop. If we ground the center and foundation of this novel as stemming from the actions documented in part four, then part three could easily have been set in the future, a future imagined by that of the 20th century. While published in the early 2000s, the novel summarizes the 1900s in one fell swoop.
The idea of a novel as a vehicle or medium is thoroughly explored by Bolaño and part three is his precious novella; it’s his signature move and it boggles the mind that he has not received more recognition for his efforts here. The literary obsession over character-detectives and multicultural storytelling continues to be revered by critics the world over. Unfortunately, 2666 is often mistaken as a bloated book late to the 21st century, a century in which the novel fights for attention as much as the migrant laborer or the Invisible Man that is Oscar Fate.
“I’m American. Why didn’t I say I was African American? Because I’m in a foreign country? But can I really consider myself to be in a foreign country when I could go walking back to my own country right now if I wanted, and it wouldn’t even take very long? Does this mean that in some places I’m American and in some places I’m African American and in other places, by logical extension, I’m nobody?” (Page 283)
Yes, Ralph Ellison is hard to miss in part three. Oscar Fate only recognizes his Black identity when he is faced with a restaurant full of Mexicans and Indians and he continues to be an outsider struggling to understand Spanish while realizing that the American public could care less about an outsider’s story. In fact, the sharpest irony of this part is the eventual confrontation of Óscar by Oscar. Fate shows Amalfitano (from part two) that language, whether through letters or numbers or English or Spanish, can only explain so much. The nature of life will erode meaning just as the book hanging out on the clothesline. Despite the fact that the little old drunk is technically not behind bars, the cultural tribes we think we belong to shift with apparent motion.
“Dreams converged on common ground” when the two Oscars meet. A surreal encounter, drawn by Wolfgang Paalen and played through a zoetrope. The “accidental sports writer” spends more words describing El Rey del Taco than the main event of the boxing match. After all, Fate’s dream ends with a blurry drive into the blazing desert heralded by the song of Las Mañanitas.
“On the way to Tucson, Fate didn’t recognize any of the things he’d seen a few days before, when he’d traveled the same road in the opposite direction. What used to be my right is my left, and there are no points of reference. Everything is erased.” (Page 348)