I’ve posted this quote before. Page 227:
He chose The Metamorphosis over The Trial, he chose Bartleby over Moby Dick, he chose A Simple Heart over Bouvard and Pecuchet, and A Christmas Carol over A Tale of Two Cities or The Pickwick Papers. What a sad paradox, thought Amalfitano. Now even bookish pharmacists are afraid to take on the great, imperfect, torrential works, books that blaze paths into the unknown. They choose the perfect exercises of the great masters. Or what amounts to the same thing: they want to watch the great masters spar, but they have no interest in real combat, when the great masters struggle against that something, that something that terrifies us all, that something that cows us and spurs us on, amid blood and mortal wounds and stench.
Note the boxing terminology: “they want to watch the great masters spar, but they have no interest in real combat.” Bolaño explores the boxing/combat theme more in “The Part About Fate.” Here, political reporter Oscar Fate is visiting Santa Teresa to cover a boxing match for his magazine because the usual boxing reporter, Jimmy Lowell, was murdered in Chicago. (Oof, already off to a bad start.) Here’s the short passage covering the actual fight on page 312:
The fight was short. First Count Pickett came out. Polite applause, some boos. Then Merolino Fernández came out. Thundering applause. In the first round, they sized each other up. In the second, Pickett went on the offensive and knocked his opponent out in less than a minute. Merolino Fernández’s body didn’t even move where it lay on the canvas. His seconds hauled him into his corner and when he didn’t recover the medics came in and took him off to the hospital. Count Pickett raised an arm, without much enthusiasm, and left surrounded by his people. The fans began to empty out of the arena.
Very anticlimactic–but only if you believe this is supposed to be the climax of “The Part About Fate.” It’s actually the setup for the violence to come.
Sidenote: we get about four pages dedicated to Fate watching Merolina Fernández spar with Omar Abdul and García, and only one paragraph of the actual fight? Is Bolaño satisfied with just sparring himself and not actually struggling with that something that terrifies us all? No, I think he’s just warming up.
After the fight, Fate begins his journey toward revelation that includes a metaphorical descent into hell. It starts with him meeting Rosa Amalfitano (she’s still alive!) and trying to talk her up in a nightclub after the fight (on pages 317-318):
Fate thought about Spain. He was going to ask her what part of Spain she was from when he saw a man hit a woman in a corner of the room. The first blow made the woman’s head snap violently and the second blow knocked her down. Without thinking, Fate tried to move toward them, but someone grabbed his arm. When he turned to see who it was, no one was there. In the opposite corner of the club the man who had hit the woman stepped next to where she was huddled on the ground and kicked her in the stomach. A few feet away from him he saw Rosa Mendéz smiling happily. Next to her was Corona, who was looking in a different direction with the usual serious expression on his face. Corona’s arm was around Rosa Mendéz’s shoulders. Every so often she would lift Corona’s hand to her mouth and bite his finger. Sometimes Rosa Mendéz’s teeth bit too hard and then Corona’s brow furrowed slightly.
First thing: I’m not so sure if Rosa Mendéz is “a few feet away from” Fate or “a few feet away from” the man savagely beating the woman in the corner of the room. I think the ambiguity is intentional.
Then: we go from the man savagely beating the woman to Rosa Mendéz biting Corona’s hand. It’s a moment linking violence against women with an aggressive sexual tension. (Also a moment of rebellion? Is Rosa Mendéz biting the hand that feeds her?)
Bolaño brings this full circle when Fate and Corona mix it up on page 324:
As they left the room he felt Corona grab his arm and saw him lift his free hand, which seemed to be holding a blunt instrument. He turned around and dealt Corona an uppercut to the chin, in the style of Count Pickett. Like Merolino Fernández earlier, Corona dropped to the floor without a sound. Only then did Fate realize Corona was holding a gun. He took it away from him and asked Chucho Flores what he planned to do.
“I’m not jealous, amigo,” said Chucho Flores with his hands raised at chest height so that Fate could see he wasn’t carrying a weapon.
Rosa Amalfitano looked at Corona’s gun as if it were a sex-shop contraption.
Fate overpowers Corona the way Count Pickett overpowered Merolino Fernández the way the man in the club overpowered the woman. And then the sex: Rosa Mendéz biting Corona’s finger and Rosa Amalfitano (still alive six pages later) staring at the gun like it was a sex toy.
Oh, but what is that look? What is Rosa Amalfitano’s reaction here? Is she repulsed? Curious? Excited? Bolaño seems to ask the reader to fill in the rest, to decide what kind of person Rosa Amalfitano is, to illuminate the reader’s views on violence and sex. And it turns out to be an uncomfortable exercise.
I’ve finished “The Part About Fate” and am about to pitch headlong into “The Part About The Crimes.” I’ve heard from everybody I know and don’t know who’s tackled this book that this is where it starts to get tough–this is the moment we begin that “struggle against that something, that something that terrifies us all, that something that cows us and spurs us on, amid blood and mortal wounds and stench.” Or, at least, that’s what they say.