“Detective stories are investigations into the motives and mechanics of violence”

I want to highlight three passages from “The Part About Fate.”  The first, as told by an American boxing reporter (male) who is initially trying to explain why there aren’t many heavyweight Mexican boxers, veers between racist, humorous, and unsettling–a coarse exploration of rape as a tool of conquest.  The second, as told by a Mexican crime reporter (female), that is much less flippant, is unsettling, creepy, terrifying.

Pages 287-288:

One of them told the story of the Mexican fighter Hércules Carreño. Carreño was almost six and a half feet tall, unusually tall for Mexico, where people tend to be short. And he was strong, too. He worked unloading sacks at a market or butcher’s, and someone convinced him to try boxing. He got a late start. He might have been twenty-five. But in Mexico heavyweights are few and far between, and he won all his fights. This is a country with good bantamweights, good flyweights, good featherweights, even the occasional welterweight, but no heavyweights or light heavyweights. It has to do with tradition and nutrition. Morphology. Now Mexico has a president who’s taller than the president of the United States. This is the first time it’s ever happened. Gradually, the presidents here are getting taller. It used to be unthinkable. A Mexican president would come up to the American president’s shoulder, at most. Sometimes the Mexican president’s head would be barely an inch or two above our presidents belly button. That’s just how it was. But now the Mexican upper class is changing. They’re getting richer and they go looking for wives north of the border. That’s what you call improving the race. A short Mexican sends his short son to college in California. The kid has money and does whatever he wants and that impresses some girls. There’s no place on earth with more dumb girls per square foot than a college in California. Bottom line: the kid gets himself a degree and a wife, who moves to Mexico with him. So then the short Mexican grandkids aren’t so short anymore, they’re medium, and meanwhile their skin’s getting lighter too. These grandkids, when the time comes, set off on the same journey of initiation as their father. American college, American wife, taller and taller kids. What this means is that the Mexican upper class, of its own accord, is doing what the Spaniards did, but backward. The Spaniards, who were hot-blooded and didn’t think too far ahead, mixed with the Indian women, raped them, forced them to practice their religion, and thought that meant they were turning the country white. Those Spaniards believed in a mongrel whiteness. But they overestimated their semen and that was their mistake. You just can’t rape that many people. It’s mathematically impossible. It’s too hard on the body. You get tired. Plus, they were raping from the bottom up, when what would’ve made more sense would be raping from the top down. They might have gotten some results if they’d been capable of raping their own mongrel children and then their mongrel grandchildren and even their bastard greatgrandchildren. But who’s going to go out raping people when you’re seventy and you can hardly stand on your own two feet? You can see the results all around you. The semen of those Spaniards, who thought they were titans, just got lost in the amorphous mass of thousands of Indians. The first mongrels, the ones with fifty-fifty blood, took charge of the country, those were your ministers, your soldiers, your shopkeepers, your founders of new cities. And they kept on raping, but it didn’t yield the same fruits, since the Indian women they were raping gave birth to mestizos with a smaller percentage of white blood. And so on.

Pages 296-297:

“As I said already, I’m a reporter,” said Guadalupe Roncal. “I work for one of the big Mexico City newspapers. And I’m staying at this hotel out of fear.”

“Fear of what?” asked Fate.

“Fear of everything. When you work on something that involves the killings of women in Santa Teresa, you end up scared of everything. Scared you’ll be beaten up. Scared of being kidnapped. Scared of torture. Of course, the fear lessens with experience. But I don’t have experience. No experience whatsoever. I’m cursed by a lack of experience. You might even say I’m here undercover, as an undercover reporter, if there is such a thing. I know everything about the killings. But I’m not really an expert on the subject. What I mean is, until a week ago this wasn’t my subject. I wasn’t up on it, I hadn’t written anything about it, and suddenly, out of the blue, the file landed on my desk and I was in charge of the investigation. Do you want to know why?”

Fate nodded.

“Because I’m a woman and women can’t turn down assignments. Of course, I already knew what had happened to my predecessor. Everybody at the paper knew it. The case got a lot of attention. You might even have heard about it.” Fate shook his head. “He was killed, of course. He got in too deep and they killed him. Not here, in Santa Teresa, but in Mexico City. The police said it was a robbery that went wrong. You want to know how it happened? He got in a taxi. The taxi drove off. Then it stopped at a corner and two strangers got in. For a while they drove around to different cash machines, maxing out my predecessor’s credit card, then they headed somewhere on the edge of the city and stabbed him. He wasn’t the first reporter to be killed for what he wrote. Going through his papers I found information on two others. A woman, a radio correspondent, who was kidnapped in Mexico City, and a Chicano who worked for an Arizona paper called La Raza, who disappeared. The two of them were investigating the killings of women in Santa Teresa. I’d met the radio correspondent at journalism school. We were never friends. We might’ve exchanged a few words at most. But I think I’d met her. Before they killed her they raped her and tortured her.”

Roncal is, of course, addressing the very real issue of Mexican journalists being killed for the things they write about.

For the first 260 pages of 2666, the novel has been slowly hinting at the killings in Santa Teresa, handing out little snippets of information and mood in the form of metaphor and passing mentions.  But since we were introduced to Oscar Fate, everything has opened up.  The book has now become a detective novel investigating the killings of hundreds of lower class Mexican (and, so far, one American [p 258]) women.

And why lower class Mexican women?  The white-haired man at Cochise’s Corner, Professor Kessler, explains on pages 266-267:

In the nineteenth century, toward the middle or the end of the nineteenth century, said the white-haired man, society tended to filter death through the fabric of words. Reading news stories from back then you might get the idea that there was hardly any crime, or that a single murder could throw a whole country into tumult. We didn’t want death in the home, or in our dreams and fantasies, and yet it was a fact that terrible crimes were committed, mutilations, all kinds of rape, even serial killings. Of course, most of the serial killers were never caught. Take the most famous case of the day. No one knew who Jack the Ripper was. Everything was passed through the filter of words, everything trimmed to fit our fear….Maybe it’s because polite society was so small back then. I’m talking about the nineteenth century, eighteenth century, seventeenth century. No doubt about it, society was small. Most human beings existed on the outer fringes of society. In the seventeenth century, for example, at least twenty percent of the merchandise on every slave ship died. By that I mean the dark-skinned people who were being transported for sale, to Virginia, say. And that didn’t get anyone upset or make headlines in the Virginia papers or make anyone go out and call for the ship captain to be hanged. But if a plantation owner went crazy and killed his neighbor and then went galloping back home, dismounted, and promptly killed his wife, two deaths in total, Virginia society spent the next six months in fear, and the legend of the murderer on horseback might linger for generations. Or look at the French. During the Paris Commune of 1871, thousands of people were killed and no one batted an eye. Around the same time a knife sharpener killed his wife and his elderly mother and then he was shot and killed by the police. The story didn’t just make all the French newspapers, it was written up in papers across Europe, and even got a mention in the New York Examiner. How come? The ones killed in the Commune weren’t part of society, the darkskinned people who died on the ship weren’t part of society, whereas the woman killed in a French provincial capital and the murderer on horseback in Virginia were. What happened to them could be written, you might say, it was legible. That said, words back then were mostly used in the art of avoidance, not of revelation. Maybe they revealed something all the same.

I fear for Guadalupe Roncal’s life, and I’ve been extra careful about parsing everything she says and does and the language used to describe her for a hint about her…fate.

* The title of this post is from this 10-year-old article about Bolaño and 2666.

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