The Secret of Evil
by Roberto Bolaño
New Directions, 2012
192 pages / $22.95 buy from Powell’s
We now have a new book (in English) of Bolaño’s fiction, presumably one of his last (FSG is releasing the unfinished Woes of the True Policeman later this year, an extension of the Amalfitano section in 2666). The Secret of Evil is a collection of Bolaño’s fiction found on his computer after his death, comprised of many pieces that appear unfinished. As Ignacio Echevarría’s introduction notes, and as readers will already be familiar, Bolaño’s texts can tend toward inconclusiveness. The typical Bolaño ending culminates in anti-climax, things sort of petering out, trailing off indiscriminately, people boarding planes, looking down desolate streets, etc. So what’s interesting in these pieces is figuring out which are truly finished and which are still works in progress.
I would say this collection is for fans only, that The Secret of Evil will be considered a lesser Bolaño collection in the future, but the excitement is still here, the glimpses into that familiar world are prevalent. In one of my favorite short stories in the collection, “Death of Ulises,” Arturo Belano visits Mexico City again, after years of absence. He finds a group of fat guys who are in a band called The Asshole of Morelos, and claim to be the last disciples of Ulises Lima, Belano’s old friend, familiar to readers of The Savage Detectives. Even in a few pages, so much of what I love about Bolaño is present: the city as black hole, the distant pang of terror, art and the people who make it as synonymous with failure, the mystery of banality infused with dire seriousness.
In one scene from the story, Belano is transferring planes at the airport in Mexico City, en route to a literary conference in Guadalajara. He decides against the trip, and takes a cab through his old home town, backlit by the early morning:
The people walking on the sidewalk, however, are the same; they’re younger, they probably hadn’t even been born when he left, but basically these are the faces he saw in 1968, in 1974, in 1976. The taxi driver tries to engage him in conversation, but Belano doesn’t feel like talking. When he can finally close his eyes again, he sees his taxi driving at full speed down a busy avenue, while robbers hold up other taxis and the passengers die with terrified expressions on their faces. Vaguely familiar gestures and words. Fear. Then he sees nothing and falls asleep the way a stone falls down a well.
The more I read Bolaño, the more it seems the voice is the reason I come back, the reason I still pick up every new book of his fiction with excitement: I look forward to hearing the voice that enraptured me from the first pages of 2666. It’s a world-weary voice without a trace of the nostalgia and sentimentalism so common among people who’ve “seen it all, done it all” (as Arturo Belano said himself). While its self-seriousness might turn some off, Bolaño’s fiction is the kind that skirts the void, even in a few pages, even in sketches. The mysterious dire seriousness that pops up repeatedly is an intimation of place, and what it feels like to be there, though there are enough hints to suggest that we might know already, if only vaguely.