Friday, October 06, 2006

Sin Propósito Fijo

Manuel Ramos

I thought I was going to add to what Daniel Olivas and RudyG have written about writing. See their posts earlier this week and last week. Turns out, I don't have all that much to contribute. The one point I will make --my opinion only -- is that Writers Write, and Read. The reasons for that should be obvious, no? But read what? Everything. No snobs when it comes to writers reading. The writers who read only what they write about (or the genre in which they write) are in a risky dead-end. Read it all: novels (literary and genre), short stories, biography, memoir, essay. My grandmother made me rest my eyes before I walked home at night because I had been reading too much. She didn't want the night air to damage my over-exercised eyes. But she never made me stop reading. And I've heard some writers say they don't read when they are writing. Fear of influence? How bad can it be to be influenced by Arturo Pérez-Reverte or Walter Mosley or Andrea Camilleri or Juan Rulfo? Loss of focus? If your own story can't make you focus while you are living your life (which includes reading), then what can you expect from a reader? In any event, Daniel and Rudy are very articulate rascals and they make excellent points -- check them out if you have not read their posts yet.

Roberto Bolaño
was born in Chile in 1953. By the time he died in 2003 he had written ten novels, two collections of short stories and five books of poetry. When he was fifteen his family moved to Mexico, but he returned in 1973 to "help build socialism." Less than a month later, Pinochet seized power, Bolaño was arrested. When he was released he moved on to Mexico, Paris and Barcelona. He was an extremely popular and influential writer in Latin America.

In an article in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, Marcello Balvé noted that Bolaño had said that magic realism "stinks." As far as the Latin American Literature Boom's central trinity – García Márquez, Vargas Llosa, and Fuentes – was concerned, "Bolaño said he felt no debt and only acknowledged Argentina's now-overlooked Julio Cortázar as an influence, although he noted that Cortázar really came earlier, having been born in 1914."

Unfortunately, few of his books have been translated into English. That is changing. Now available are By Night in Chile, Distant Star, and the short story collection, Last Evenings on Earth ((New Directions, 2006, translated by Chris Andrews). I recently finished the short stories. This is sublime, subtle writing. And difficult. As related in Balvé's article, Bolaño, accepting a literary prize for Los detectives salvajes, one of his short story collections, said that everything he had written could be seen as farewell letters, or love letters, written to a failed generation: "We were stupid and generous, the way young people are, who give everything and don't ask for anything in return, and now nothing remains of those young people.... Latin America is sown with their bones." The characters wander aimlessly, or pursue private, unlikely quests. They seldom succeed but it does not matter. The exiled Chileans meet one another in exotic and famous locations around the world, but the settings do not matter. These places -- Acapulco, Barcelona, Goméz Palacio -- are hazy and ephemeral, serving only to frame the anxiety and sense of loss that looms around the aging men and women who fought or ran away or never knew the struggles on their own continent. For the most part, they failed to participate. When all is said and done, the characters themselves do not seem to matter. Some are referred to only as B or M. The structure of the stories is first person narrative. No dialogue and very little of what we have come to call "plot." The narrator is detached, and often the end is simply a place where the narrator decides to stop. The end does not mean resolution. The effect is as though the reader must provide the voices and story line. The reader is required to participate.

This is not a review of Last Evenings on Earth. I have to read more Bolaño before I can step up to the plate. Next for me is Distant Star. The book's cover blurb says that this is the story of Carlos Weider, a man who "exploits the 1973 coup to launch his own version of New Chilean Poetry: a multimedia enterprise involving sky-writing, torture, photography, murder, and verse." Meanwhile, Bolaño's acknowledged masterpiece, 2666, unfinished when he died, apparently is scheduled for 2007 English publication. The 1100 page book has been described as an apocalyptic nightmare about the 20th century that converges on a string of murders of young women in an industrial city near the Mexican-US border.

Prizefighter En Mi Casa
by e.E. Charlton-Trujillo, (Delacorte Press, 2006) for ages 9-12, is described by the publisher as: "Twelve-year-old Chula Sanchez isn’t thin, isn’t beautiful, and because she’s Mexican, isn’t popular in her south Texas town. And now that a car accident has left her father paralyzed and her plagued with seizures, she is poor. But Chula’s father is determined to pull his family out of debt. He sends for El Jefe—the most revered prizefighter in Mexico. Chula’s father hopes that with steel-pipe arms and fists like pit bulls, El Jefe will win the local illegal boxing matches and bring home much-needed money. But El Jefe—a man who many see as a monster—only brings confusion to a home that is already filled with problems. And now Chula must decide for herself whether good and bad can reside in one person and whether you can have strength in your heart when your fists have none."

Reminder: Reyna Grande in Denver - October 10. Tattered Cover, Colfax Avenue. 7:30 PM.

The first, maybe annual, La Bloga Día de los Muertos Amoxcalli-Descansos Contest. Here's your chance to get exposure for your great piece relating to el Día de los Muertos. Through Oct. 24th we will accept prose, poetry, essay, in English or Spanish or Spanglish--just about anything concerning this indigenous/modern tradition. Fantasy, children's stories, young adult, horror, serious, or not so--anything you want to share on La Bloga. Shorter pieces are preferred (less than 500 words), since we are the editorial staff and will base decisions on quality and how little work is required of us. We will feature one prize winner each day of the week of Day of the Dead. For more details, see the September 28 issue of La Bloga. Send to


No comments: