"The Prefiguration of Lalo Cura" by Roberto Bolano ( in The New Yorker, June 2010, 5 pages)-both translated by Cris Andrews from the Spanish.
In the first half of 2009, before I began my blog, I read four of Roberto Bolano's (1953 to 2003-Chile) novels. First I read Savage Detectives, then 2666, then the hilarious Nazi Literature in the Americas and lastly By Night in Chile. Obviously I greatly admire his work and along with the rest of the literary world I wonder what he might have done with another twenty years. Many think his writings will become part of the canon. His literary output was huge, much is still untranslated but it is coming out soon, I think.
I was very happy when I found that The New Yorker had recently published and placed on their web pages for all to read two newly translated short stories by Bolano. (I do not know when they were first written.) Both of these stories are very much in the style of Savage Detectives and 2666.
"William Burns" is about a man staying in a shack in the mountains somewhere with his two girlfriends. Both of the women are convinced that a man is stalking the two of them and intends to kills them. They do not know why. Like his big novels, this story is about people at the edge caught up in meaningless violence. The ending is a surprise but it is well done and fits with the themes of the story. I see this as for sure worth reading. It will just take a few minutes.
"The Prefiguration of Lalo Cura" is very much a miniature Bolano novel. I was totally take up into the world of the narrator by the brilliant opening lines.
I’ll tell you everything, naturally. My father was a renegade priest. I don’t know if he was Colombian or from some other country. But he was Latin American. He turned up one night in Medellin, stone broke, preaching sermons in bars and whorehouses. Some thought he was working for the secret police, but my mother kept him from getting killed and took him to her penthouse in the neighborhood. They lived together for four months, I’ve been told, and then my father vanished into the Gospels. Latin America was calling him, and he kept slipping away into the sacrificial words until he vanished, gone without a trace. Whether he was Catholic or Protestant is something I’ll never find out now. I know that he was alone and that he moved among the masses, fevered and loveless, full of passion and empty of hope
Besides the male narrator, the story centers on three young women he gets to know. . They lived in New York city and they dreamed of being dancers on Broadway. That happens for them but along the way they clean hotels, work as prostitutes, sell their blood, etc. This is how women are depicted in the world of Bolano. The narrator says in a purely off hand way that they are typical Broadway chorus girls. Along the way we meet a minor male star of pornographic movies, watch the girls star in an x rated movie about Latin America after WWIII, and we get to know a professional killer. In other words just your standard Bolano cast of characters and happenings. I think this story is a very good way for someone who has not yet read any of his work to sample Bolano. If you like this story then I would say either jump right into the massive 2666 or if you have more reading time start with Savage Detectives then read 2666. Both of these books have wonderful sections on the reading life and lots of literary references.
I salute The New Yorker for its commitment to quality fiction and for putting these two stories on their public web page.