First: A note.
Before I begin talking about the story for this post, I just want to say that the New Yorker website is a marvellous resource. The New Yorker Magazine has had an incalculable influence on the modern day short story, and appearing in the New Yorker is still considered the height of achievement for many aspiring writers. On the New Yorker website, there are many short stories to be found and read for free (if, like myself you’re too impoverished to spring for membership). The publisher does not seem to advertise the free stories on the website though and they can be difficult to find. I came across three Roberto Bolano stories on there, but I had to go searching for them. There are links at the end of the post.
Now back to our regular feature…
Roberto Bolano is now a hot, hot writer. Too bad the Chilean born poet, novelist and short story writer is dead. His fame in the west has grown since his death in 2003. Some describe him as the South American Jack Kerouac. Others say he is his own person entirely.
Personally, I am all for jumping on literary bandwagons. It’s good exercise and stretches the legs. I have been browsing some Bolano stories online and quite like what I have read. Clara, which is available on the New Yorker website, tells the story of the narrator’s relationship with Clara, a troubled eighteen year old girl who wants to be a painter, but doesn’t have the interest in it.
The narrator is romantically involved with Clara at first. Clara enters a beauty contest and comes second place in it. Unfortunately Clara lives in another city. When the narrator asks her to come and live with him in Barcelona, she breaks up with him.
Years later, the narrator comes back in contact with Clara and finds out the details of her life after she left him. She had a bad marriage that ended after two years and has suffered from a recurring dream about rats. The narrator has come back into her life as she is on antidepressants; they have inhibited her sex drive and she is trying to regain it. The narrator’s and Clara’s second attempt together is also a failure but they remain friends and keep in touch.
Clara marries again and has a child. She attempts to take up painting, but again she is unable to properly take an interest in it. The narrator learns after a number of more years that Clara has cancer. In the end of the story she doesn’t die, but goes missing. The narrator hopes that she will turn up at his apartment but she does not.
The plot, when I write it out like this doesn’t seem like anything profound, but it’s a wonderful story. The gently foreshadowing and use of parenthesis adds a lot to the story, lines like “(I was the first guy that Clara had slept with, which seemed incidental or anecdotal, but in the end it would cost me dearly)” add humanity to the narrative. Not much is said of the narrator himself, it might be Bolano himself, it might not be Bolano, nothing is provided. He does care about Clara, he loved her once; it is uncertain though if he still loves her at the story’s end.
I am on board the Bolano Bandwagon, and am happy to spread the word. It is just such a pity that Bolano passed away before his work really took off in the West.
Below are some Bolano related links, all on that excellent resource, the New Yorker website (and I say this under no duress, but because I keep reading the stories on there for free.) I don’t know for how long these links will remain active, so enjoy them while you can.