Oh boy. 2666
was so good. 2666
was also so awful. I liked some of it very, very much, but I also kind of hated it. I'm very conflicted about it. Even as I write this I'm thinking about my (currently) four-star rating: "should I drop it to three? no, should I raise it to five? ...not that either, but four? maybe I should remove the rating completely!" etc. This novel/tome/unwieldy paperweight/projectile weapon/scalar counterweight/etc. defies the rating system because it's really something like three-to-five separate novels that are maybe linked but maybe not, and they're very different in terms of enjoyability.
Book the first is about a little coterie of professors across Europe who have dedicated their professional careers to studying Archimboldi (the authorial nexus of the 2666
cosmos). Honestly, one of the best parts, along with the final part.
Book the second is about Amalfitano, an unstable professor who we meet briefly in the first part. This part focuses mainly on his fear that his daughter will be corrupted by the gang life in Mexico. He like to hang mathematics books out to dry on the clothesline next to his dirty underwear - a man after my own heart.
Book the third concerns the allergorically (fatally?) named Oscar Fate, an afro-American journalist from Detroit whose assignment to cover a Mexican boxing match is upstaged by his interest in he series of murders and brutal rapes in Santa Theresa.
Book the fourth ruined this book for me completely. I hated it. It was a ceaseless, excruciating account of rapes and murders in Santa Theresa which were kind of related and kind of unrelated, and had a very tenuous thread holding them together by the few detectives which covered the serial killings. Don't get me wrong, I love
"Law and Order: Special Victims Unit." Rape and murder are ugly, but I can appreciate them in a larger context. The detectives of 2666
are decidedly not Olivia Benson or Eliot Stabler. They are mostly passionless, vaguely Machiavellian; they don't inspire any genuine interest for the reader, and they pass in and out of the narrative. I almost abandoned the book entirely for this section, which was so brutal, senseless, and meaningless that I believe it should have been completely removed or very heavily edited. I can't confirm this, but it felt like the longest section and also the most plotless (none have any sort of resolution). I am a firm believer in reading for pleasure. I find pleasure in classic literature, and genre fiction, and nonfiction which interests me, but I am loath to read as a task. This felt like a chore. I can vaguely see the adumbration of an argument that the endless rape vignettes has some large significance about desensitized violence or gender roles or social class concerns, etc. but when it comes down to the wire for me, message has to come with some sort of aesthetic pleasure, some sort of narrative pleasure, or else it is not very good to me; it's not something I can love
or scarcely appreciate. Maybe I am just a philistine, but I have a difficulty loving most contemporary literature: where has all the subtlety gone from literature? Where are the modern Prousts, the modern Jameses? I hate to read heavy-handed social commentary and ugliness for ugliness's sake. I think the world I live in has a tremendous capacity for beauty and I think it is too often ignored for cheap shots at socio-eco-political agendas and poor social satire, bad sex scenes, and made-for-movies dramatics. One redemption of 2666
is that I will probably never see a movie version of it, or if I do it will skirt past the grotesquity of the "part about the crimes."
Book the fifth, the final portion, is about Archimboldi, the elusive novelist studied in the first part. This was the strongest part of the novel, I felt. We follow the young Hans Reiter through his Prussian life, through the Nazi regime, and his eclectically appreciated novels. The dynamics of war, family, art, and experience were poignant and moving, and frankly redeemed this novel for me.
None of these stories are brought to fruition, and that's just how life is sometimes. Stories continue on without you, mysteries remain unsolved. All you can do is take what life offers you and draw your own conclusions, make some speculations and remain skeptical. What do we make of all the false starts in Calvino's If on a winter's night a traveller
? Many of those false-starts are books I would like to read, but they're stories which died with Calvino, or maybe died stillborn in his mind before ever coming to anything, ever. Sometimes that happens. Not every story ends in death or a wedding like the Shakespearean tragedies and comedies of old, sometimes life's stories just fizzle out, dissipate, evaporate, end before they start.
Significantly, this novel was never finished. At 900 pages, I can only imagine how much of the remaining work to be done was paring it down. Maybe refining some of the metaphors (why is everything compared to a "whore" of some kind or other?). Overall I think there is something here, something
, maybe a small something, buried a bit in excess pulp, but something real and radiant. It certainly raises questions, many questions, and answers none of them. It is perhaps an excellent jumping off point for the imagination: what happens to Oscar Fate? who is the murder, or murderers, of the women in Santa Theresa? and so forth. Did I love this book? No I can't say that I did, though I see a lot of friends on here that really loved
it. Will I return to it again? No, I don't think I will do that, at least not in its entirety; I could perhaps see myself re-reading certain parts of it, particularly the first and last parts, which far surpassed the rest of it.