Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Roberto Bolaño: The Insufferable Gaucho

I like this New Yorker story--not new, but newly translated--by the author of The Savage Detectives; it has a lot in common with the book I'm trying to rewrite, and is sophisticated but simply told. I'm embarrassed to admit this is the only thing I've read of Bolaño's; now I will have to go get that novel.

In the story, a retired judge from Buenos Aires falls into idleness, and then, in the wake of the Argentinian economic collapse, retreats to the abandoned family ranch far off in the pampas. On the train ride there, the judge observes through the window a quartet of rabbits as it chases, catches, and eviscerates a fifth rabbit. The rabbits become a running theme, as the judge attempts to make a life for himself in the middle of nowhere; they are all that's left now that nobody is bothering to raise any cattle.

The judge forgets how to be urban and begins to lose his mind. At one point, his son, a writer, brings some friends to visit, including a book publisher. The judge and the publisher take a ride out to visit a cluster of decrepit buildings:

For two hours, the publisher held forth in praise of the idyllic, unspoiled life led, as he saw it, by the inhabitants of Capitan Jourdan. When he spotted the first of the ruined houses, he broke into a gallop, but it was much farther away than he had thought, and before he got there a rabbit leaped up and bit him on the neck.

Really?!!? Awesome. Bolaño's story is profoundly odd, but amiably presents itself as perfectly normal, unwrapping its peculiar pleasures dispassionately, in the language of a fairy tale. The judge eventually goes back to the city to see to his house, and briefly considers staying for good--but when a cocaine-addled weirdo accosts him in a cafe, the judge, instead of ignoring the man, stabs him in the groin, and soon decides to return to the ranch.

Bolaño is a pro at the slightly-strange detail, like a strip of rabbit jerky "literally seething with protein," or a meal "which they ate in a room full of old photographs." The story is like a painting with almost nothing on it, which by its sparseness magnifies what little is there.


Anonymous said...

If you want really want to understand this story you need to read Borges' story "The South."

Anonymous said...

Roberto Bolaño admired Borges‼