The Secret Center of Bolaño’s 2666

I finished Roberto Bolaño’s epic novel 2666 in the beginning of July, but on a recent road trip with some fellow post-MFAers, I found myself talking about it. It’s a book that stays with you after you turn the last page for a lot of reasons, not least of which is its grim depictions of the rape, torture and murder of women and girls in Mexico’s fictional border city of Santa Teresa—murders that the police and residents ignore and/or collude in. But Bolaño’s prose makes the reading journey worthwhile, even if it’s a harrowing, brutal trip at times.

The book is composed of five sections (or novels), but characters weave in and out of the text and all five sections deal with Santa Teresa in some way. Bolaño wanted the five sections published independently, but publishers decided that it made more sense for them to be together. It does. In fact, I think an important reason for reading 2666 falls away without a full read of all five parts, but I’ll get to that in a second.

One interesting thing (or perhaps annoying, depending on your outlook) about 2666 is that nowhere is the title mentioned in the actual text of the book. Rather, the end notes explain 2666 appears as a year in Bolaño’s book, Amulet. A character in Amulet describes a cemetery as “not a cemetery in 1974 or 1968, or 1975, but a cemetery in the year 2666, a forgotten cemetery under the eyelid of a corpse or an unborn child, bathed in the dispassionate fluids of an eye that tried so hard to forget one particular thing that it ended up forgetting everything else.”

Yeah, 2666 is bleak. 

But here’s the thing. Before he died, Bolaño wrote that the book contained a “secret center.” Which, if you believe the end notes, is thought to be Santa Teresa. This idea had me scratching my head. If Bolaño was going for a secret center, Santa Teresa strikes me as too obvious, too easy to spot. The book is pretty up front about all the connections to Mexico. So not so secret for a secret.

And really? If that was the secret center, 2666 loses some of its appeal. At least to me. It risks becoming a bunch of well-written dark stories, borderline torture porn. So I’m throwing that theory out and adding my vote for the secret center. It’s a passage that stopped me, one that I underlined and starred. One that made me think, hm, yes. This might be true. 

“… that history, which is a simple whore, has no decisive moments but is a proliferation of instants, brief interludes that vie with one another in monstrousness.”

To me, this makes sense as a center, an idea that loses its power if the sections/novels are read independently. The outlook is apocalyptic in 2666. The book is a grim examination of the meaninglessness of life. And it is an attempt at depicting meaningless without false hope.

What do you think? Find a different secret center?

Incidentally, that road trip we took? We were headed to the Bandera Volcano and Ice Cave in northwestern New Mexico. For $12, it’s probably the most costly and least impressive landscape in New Mexico. Repeat after me: Tourist. Trap.

We did, however, eat some mighty fine blue corn enchiladas in Gallup with the locals at Genaro’s Cafe.

2 responses to “The Secret Center of Bolaño’s 2666”

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