But by this point she didn’t trust the word of men…
2666 is an unflinching, terrifying, gut-wrenching window into the atrocious reality women experience. This is exemplified in “The Part About the Crimes,” which details – unapologetically, matter-of-factly – Santa Teresa’s besieged women (which is describing the situation very euphemistically). Hanging over the ever-escalating number of cases (usually rape-murders) is the question of what connects them all; if there even is anything that connects all the murders. Early on in the novel, my assumption was that a single killer was responsible for the large number of deaths. Strangely, that assumption was comforting. If it’s one monster, a la Jack the Ripper, it somehow isn’t as soul-crushing.
Later, I was disavowed of that notion, and I then assumed, “Okay, maybe there’s like a gang or something doing all of these terrible things” (things which, at the time, were in the background of other stories; it now seems strange that those other stories were being privileged above the crimes, but that’s no doubt part of the point here, the unsettling irony in which we exist: the fact that we elevate our own experience above the tragedy unfolding all around us, which we – aka me – get the chance to set aside in favor of our own banal concerns).
Nope. No gang. That, too, would’ve been better than what seems to be the truth: independently, separately, and only then collectively, men are taking down women. (It’s fair to read patriarchy into it all, but I don’t want such a “modern” reading to transform the visceral nature of the crimes into something abstract and intellectual, albeit very real. I’m not sure if that makes sense.) There is no organizing principle. Unless I choose to admit that it – this terrorism of women – is normal. The reason there’s nothing to solve in each case is because, taken separately, each case occludes the culture in which each case is possible. The fact is, I don’t want to connect the dots. I don’t want to see myself implicated in the crimes. I don’t want to think that I’m somehow responsible for something like this:
The neighbors found her on the bedroom floor, naked from the waist down, with a piece of wood jammed in her vagina. The cause of death was multiple stab wounds, more than sixty as counted by the medical examiner, delivered by her son, Ernesto Luis Castillo Jimenez, with whom she lived (393).
I nearly wept from this description. It’s not an isolated event in the novel, and in this particular case, it gets worse:
When he was asked what made him jam the piece of wood in his mother’s vagina, first he answered that he didn’t know, and then, after thinking about it more carefully, that he had done it to teach her. Teach her what? asked the policeman…To take him seriously (393).
I was so dumbfounded by this addition that my inclination to weep shifted into simply feeling numb. I wanted to throw the book away, which immediately felt like the most craven “woe is me” moment imaginable. I had similar reactions to Game of Thrones with “The Red Wedding,” and later, Sansa’s rape. Why put myself through such unspeakable tragedy?
Of course, I’m not actually putting myself through anything. Yes, we’re talking about fiction here, but these are not events distant from reality, even though I’d prefer to think of them that way. What I’m putting myself through is empathetic exercise. The fact that I shut down during my reading of that passage is an understandable defense mechanism, and yet, it is also indefensible. When I said “unspeakable” before, I was cravenly hoping that wishing away such atrocities would make it so they somehow never happened, will not happen, and then, by naive logical extension, cannot happen. I want to exclude their presence from my fairy tale worldview. That. Is. Bullshit.
I don’t know how to make sense of such violence, but such violence isn’t waiting for me to rationalize it. Victims don’t get to wait for their bystanders to understand what motivates their murderers. Their murderers benefit from people like me treating them as incomprehensible and then ushering them back into the realm of the unreal where they belong. As I long as I don’t believe that such horrors are possible, they will persist. And I do this knowing full well that they happen.
I don’t like to use the term “woke” to describe social awareness because (a) it’s probably appropriation in my case, and (b) it describes a past event, as if being awake in this sense is something that happens once and endures permanently. I prefer “waking up,” and I like to believe that I’m consistently engaged in and committed to that process.
But then I read those passages in 2666, and I just want to go to sleep.
Amalfitano was left alone and he didn’t dare look down the hole, which meant he had no choice but to wake.