I’ve already reached page 54, passing the second milestone in just my second day of reading. The prose is entertaining, and I’m really sucked into the story of these critics. It’s become the love triangle hinted at in the first 23 pages. And, at this point, I’m just waiting for wheelchair-bound Morini to get in on the action (it could happen any page now!), transforming this into a love rhombus. And even though Pelletier and Espinoza make great shows of keeping their friendship on track despite their involvements with Norton, I just know this is going to get twisted around somehow–perhaps fatally.
And I suspect Espinoza may be the trigger. Turn to page 30. Pelletier and Norton are lying in bed together, drifting to sleep, and Pelletier provides a flashback to a moment when he and Espinoza watched a japanese horror movie together. The plot is explained (sounds a lot like a prequel to The Ring or some other real j-horror flick), and we see Espinoza’s reaction through Pelletier’s eyes (pages 30-31):
And then, remembered Pelletier, Espinoza said the first girl was a two-bit psychopath and the second girl was a silly bitch, and the film could have been good if the second girl, instead of staring openmouthed and looking horrified, had told the first one to shut up. And not gently, not politely, instead she should have told the girl: “Shut up, you cunt, what’s so funny? does it turn you on telling the story of a dead boy? does it make you come telling the story of a dead boy, you imaginary-dick-sucking bitch?”
And so on, in the same vein. And Pelletier remembered that Espinoza spoke so vehemently, he even did the voice the second girl should have used and the way she should have stood, that he thought it best to turn off the TV and take him to the bar for a drink before they went back to their rooms. And he also remembered that he felt tenderness toward Espinoza at that moment, a tenderness that brought back adolescence, adventures fiercely shared, and small-town afternoons.
Yeah, Espinoza sounds a little unhinged here, but the tenderness Pelletier feels is, uh, weirdly placed.
So, I admit that the way I’m reading this book so far is like I’m searching for the True Detective, except the inverse. I’m expecting this part with the critics to end in bloodshed of some kind. But there’s another thing I’m reading for, and it’s the hints of some greater horror. The j-horror flick is just the primer. There’s a moment of real terror (the book version of a jump scare?) ten pages later.
We go back to the Swabian, the dude from the five-page sentence on pages 18-22. The gang is debating on the true identity of this character (is it Archimboldi himself?) when this happens on pages 39-40:
Pelletier’s and Espinoza’s explanation was much more plausible: the Swabian as the noble lady’s lover, even though she could have been his grandmother. The Swabian trudging each afternoon to the house of the lady who had traveled to Buenos Aires, to fill his belly with charcuterie and biscuits and cups of tea. The Swabian massaging the back of the former cavalry captain’s widow, as the rain lashed the windows, a sad Frisian rain that made one want to weep, and although it didn’t make the Swabian weep, it made him pale, and he approached the nearest window, where he stood looking out at what was beyond the curtains of frenzied rain, until the lady called him, peremptorily, and the Swabian turned his back on the window, not knowing why he had gone to it, not knowing what he hoped to see, and just at that moment, when there was no one at the window anymore and only a little lamp of colored glass at the back of the room flickering, it appeared.
That’s the end of the section, and, as far as page 53, “it” is never mentioned again. What is “it?” What is it!?
But go back to the beginning of that excerpt: this is a scenerio Pelletier and Espinoza are explaining to Norton and Morini. This isn’t something that actually happened in the book (??). And yet, there it is. An echo from the j-horror flick?
Jammed up in the middle of this is Morini’s “attack” on pages 35-36:
Then [Pelletier and Espinoza] started to talk–and laughed quite a bit–about a strange conference that had just been held in Salonika, to which only Morini had been invited.
In Salonika, Morini had a mild attack. One morning he woke up in his hotel room and couldn’t see anything. He had gone blind. he panicked at first, but after a while he managed to regain control….
The rest of the section is him getting into his wheelchair, freaking out, weighing his options, and eventually going back to bed for an hour. And when he wakes up, Boleño never tells us if his sight returns. Creepy as hell.
Goddamn it, I feel like I’ve zeroed in on such a narrow thing that I’m probably missing so many larger things flying right over my head. Still, it’s undeniable that the horror I expected to find when I read Charles Baudelaire quote before the book’s table of contents (“An oasis of horror in a desert of boredom”) is starting to slowly rear its head.
Canelli, weigh in on this! Where you at?