Last Evenings on Earth Hardcover – Apr 24 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Chilean Bolaño (1953–2003) wrote 10 novels (including Distant Star, published to acclaim last year), books of poems and two story collections before this one. These 14 bleakly luminous stories are all told in the first person by men (usually young) who yearn for something just out of their grasp (fame, talent, love) and who harbor few hopes of attaining what they desire. New Yorker readers may remember two selections: "Gómez Palacio," concerning the grimly uneventful encounter of a Mexico City writer with the woman who directs the backwater writing program where he comes to teach, and the title story, set in 1975, in which a young Mexico City man and his father vacation in Acapulco—a trip their relationship is not strong enough to survive. The stories are similar, in theme and voice (though not in locale), and they are perfectly calibrated: Bolaño limns the capacity of a voice to carry despair without shading into bitterness. (May)
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"The most influential and admired novelist of his generation in the Spanish-speaking world" -- Susan Sontag "This may be the most haunting and mesmerising collection I have ever read" Daily Telegraph "A book full of insight for writers and aficionados of South American literature and culture" Scotland on Sunday "It is a shame that Bolano has no more evenings on earth, his unique voice asserting the importance and exuberance of literature will be sorely missed" Guardian "Bolano's language, alert and always graceful, his way of constructing narratives that are simultaneously disconcerting, brilliant and infinitely immediate, is a form of resisting evil, adversity and mediocrity" Le Monde --This text refers to the Paperback edition.See all Product Description
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So concludes Bolano at the conclusion of one of the more engimatic stories in his collection, "Last Evenings on Earth." Ive been a big Bolano fan since reading his sprawling, loosely connected 3-part epic "2666." My regard for him only increased after I read "The Savage Detectives." I knew these two books were regarded as his highest achievement in fiction, so I was prepared that whatever else I might read in his relatively short career (he died at 50) would likely not raise the bar any higher.
Indeed, his short stories are wonderful; eschewing magical realism, they nevertheless manage to evoke something of that particular blend of personal passion, political violence, and phenomenolical alchemy that one has come to expect from Latin American literature, post Garcia Marquez. Bolano, however, is more of a skeptic, a realist, an existential tragedian. His stories depict lives--mostly those of writers and artists--lived on the outside of love, success, and easy contentment. There is, as Wayne Koestenbaum noted on the back of the book, a kind of "haze that floats above Bolano's fiction" that is addictive and that reminds me of the haze that fills Camus's "The Stranger." One senses that something bad will happen, that the characters know it (often they come right out and acknowledge their foreboding) and yet there is nothing they can do to alter the course of events towards the catastrophe.
But what is, perhaps, most unsettling of all, is that Bolano's stories often don't encompass the catastrophe itself; they end, sometimes abruptly, almost always enigmatically, before the worst of a series of increasingly bad things happen. But that offers very little, if any, comfort. What comfort there may be is that one doesn't have to be there to see the worst when it inevitably happens--and therefore one might even convince themselves that it isn't inevitable.
Bolano's stories typically end short of any final revelation of the mystery. They don't offer answers or balm for the pain and price of living. What they do better than most is to present the mystery as it is and ask, "isnt that enough?" To draw in breath is to draw in both the wonder and pain of the world in equal measure. There is no cure that doesnt do violence to the mystery or increase the wound. Neither is necessary. In Bolano's art, truth is stranger than fiction and fiction is a way to put forth the truth.
"Last Evenings on Earth" presents us with a series of lives that may be described as failures, acted out as they are by characters who ought to be described as anything but--at least insofar as one believes that the only true measure of a "successful" life is to experience the mystery and pain of existence as acutely as possible without lies or rationalization. In this sense, in this endeavor, Bolano's characters, and Bolano's vision in these stories succeed and do so memorably.
Several of the stories left me hanging, wishing for some sort of resolution. But that's life. It is also true that life continues beyond the point where a story would end; as Bolano remarks in one of the stories, "Days of 1978", "life is not as kind as literature." That is just one of the terse apercus or aphorisms sprinkled here and there. Another: "We never stop reading, although every book comes to an end, just as we never stop living, although death is certain." More generally, Bolano's writing is exceedingly simple and straightforward, yet whatever he depicts is fuzzy, slightly out of focus, and hence uncertain.
I have not read much modern Latin American fiction beyond Borges and Garcia Marquez, so I can't begin to place Bolano within that category. He does remind me somewhat of Borges, but not of Garcia Marquez. Other modern story-tellers of whom I am reminded, however, include Camus, Kafka, and Fellini, in that a certain mystery and unease pervades everything. I hesitate to stamp this collection "great literature", but it certainly is worth reading and for me it is good enough to seek out and read one of Bolano's novels.
All the stories are accessible and enjoyable, with 'Last Evenings on Earth' about a father and sons trip to Acapulco-one trying to revive his youth, the other trying to move on, 'Sensini' about the letters and friendship between two writers of varying success and 'Anne Moore's life' exploring how our lives are altered and made by a combination of fate chance and-often-poor decisions encapsulate the themes Bolano muses upon.
Since his death, it seems as if every scrap of paper Bolano ever wrote on is immediately published-most likely material that Bolano had either discarded or was working on-that have diluted his great works and made people wonder what the fuss is all about, which is a great shame. 'Last Evenings on Earth' was published by Bolano when he was alive, is how he intended it, and is pure Bolano through and through. A book to read and enjoy and realise that "The fuss" is well placed.