1. Could you tell us the name of a book that you love, and why?
Robert Bolaño’s 2666, translated from the Spanish by Natasha Wimmer. It’s a big, rambling 900-page epic that is roughly about the femicide in Juarez, Mexico (which is called Santa Teresa in the novel), although it’s really a messy, digressive mirror of modern life that tackles everything from globalism, to corruption, to intellectualism, to poverty, the family, and the violence of twentieth century history.
When I first read 2666, I was skeptical about contemporary literature’s capacity to speak to a world where terrible large-scale things happen. This is the kind of impossible and necessary work that I wish more poets and fiction writers would tackle.
Bolaño ropes the reader in with the hilarious opening section, “The Part about the Critics,” which documents the lives of four European scholars brought together by their mutual love of an obscure fictional Prussian novelist, Benno Von Achimboldi. In one sense, this section is a scathing critique of the politics of literary scholarship and its hegemonic conferences and cliques. On the other, it’s an insanely accurate exploration of how we fall in love with books, and how the formation of this love is often contingent upon biographical moments. Here, one of the scholars, the character Liz Norton, first reads Achimboldi on a rainy day:
Then the oblique (drops) turned round (drops), swallowed up by the earth underpinning the grass, and the grass and the earth seemed to talk, no, not talk, argue, their incomprehensible words like crystallised spiderwebs or the briefest crystallised vomitings, a barely audible rustling, as if instead of drinking tea that afternoon, Norton had drunk a steaming cup of peyote.
Thinking about the first time I read Lorca or Plath, it was as if I’d taken a splendid drug that made the world strange again.
The fact that, in latter sections of the book, some of these scholarly characters with whom many of Bolaño’s readers might relate, get sucked into the vortex of violence in Santa Teresa reflects the book’s investment in a world that is at once contrapuntal, nihilistic, and collective.
2. Where were you when you first read, or saw, or heard of this book?
It was in the spring of 2009, when I was in the third year of a doctoral program at Florida State University. I’d just finished comp exams, and I wanted to read something I hadn’t been required to suck the joy out of through formal analysis. In one sense, 2666 invites literary critique; it’s part crime novel and postmodern novel with echoes of Marquez and Kafka. It even incorporates characters from Bolaño’s other works. On the other, the book resists critique, or makes it feel cheap and reductive.
3. Did this book influence your own writing, thinking, sense of the world, or work?
As a poet, I have a hard time making decisions in terms of language, structure and syntax. I want to steal from ten different linguistic registers and exploit dashes, white space, and parentheses. I also want to speak to a fluid and messy world where real things happen. Bolaño gives me hope that the real and even the “political” can be approached via diffusion, repetition, and fragmentation; that emotional truth is often chaotic and inchoate.
4. Give us a line or excerpt from the text that intrigues, engages, mystifies, inspires, disgusts, or transforms you. Discuss…
Still, American television is full of smiles and more and more perfect-looking teeth. Do these people want us to trust them? No. Do they want us to think they’re good people? No again. The truth is they don’t want anything from us. They just want to show us their teeth, their smiles, and admiration is all they want in return. Admiration. They want us to look at them, that’s all. Their perfect teeth, their perfect bodies, their perfect manners, as if they were constantly breaking away from the sun and they were little pieces of fire, little pieces of blazing hell, here on this planet simply to be worshipped.
Holy shit. First of all, the patterning of rhetorical question and pithy response. Also, the relentless repetition of perfect. And finally, the wild association: “as if they were constantly breaking away from the sun and they were little pieces of fire, little pieces of blazing hell, here on this planet simply to be worshipped.” How did we get from the synthetic perfection of bodies on American television to the sun? I don’t know, but I believe it. Also, I don’t think Bolaño cares whether or not I believe it. Whether it’s the sun or the desert, this vision of hell as a burning surface gets repeated throughout the book. The petty hell of TV gets connected to the profound hell of a desert city where hundreds of women are raped and murdered. A universe of teeth and fire.
5. Who did you send this book to, why?
I haven’t sent this book to anyone officially. My copy is precious and mangled. I did recommend this book to my friend, the poet Liz Countryman. I think 2666 is a poet’s novel.
Kara Candito is the author of Taste of Cherry, winner of the Prairie Schooner Book Prize (University of Nebraska Press, 2009). A recipient of scholarships from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and the MacDowell Colony, Candito teaches creative writing at UW-Platteville and serves as the poetry editor of Driftless Review (www.karacandito.com).