The New York Review of Books is presently running critic Sarah Kerr’s “The Triumph of Roberto Bolaño,” a terrific long-form review of 2666. In the review Kerr makes many incisive observations, but I was struck by this one in particular, in which she discusses the book’s fourth section, “The Part About the Murders”:
Fascinatingly, the United States appears as a part of characters’ remembered visits; a Mexican-American sheriff from Arizona crosses over to find out what happened to a blue-collar woman from his town. But the United States’s relationship to the drug trade and the history of the assembly plants are not explored directly or at length. Instead of belaboring the obvious, Bolaño seems to have chosen the challenge of representing something pervasive.
I think Kerr’s right on here: for Bolaño, the murders in Santa Teresa are made possible in part by the failure of anyone there to see the world in front of them for what it is. The violence in the book is less individual than cultural; it’s part of the air the characters breathe. In 2666, Bolaño takes a much broader view than the individual residents of Santa Teresa possibly could, in an attempt, as Kerr puts it, to reveal and “represent” the cultural, economic, political, social, and historical forces and ideas that pervade their lives. Most readers will already know about the details—about the horrors of the drug trade and the injustices of the maquiladoras. What Bolaño wants to show us is bigger than specifics—though it also includes them. He seeks to identify the ways in which grand-scale historical and cultural circumstances shape the lives and fates of individuals, and often in ways that those individuals cannot understand or imagine.