Sensini, the literary mentor in this collection's first story, warns Arturo Belano (the novelist's anti-mainstream alter-go) that "The little world of letters is terrible as well as ridiculous." Roberto Bolano's life story, with its sudden headhrush of fame and recognition, proves this point. Neglected for most of life, heralded as a supreme genius in his dying days, the fickle sensibilities of aestheticians are now claiming a son whom they, for so long, orphaned.
The positive effect of all this is that non-Spanish readers can now enjoy a wide selection of Bolano's writings. _The Savage Detectives_ has certainly now gotten its fair take . . . but what of Bolano's other writings, his short fiction, which also work with his technique of 'infrarealism': memoir combined surrealism, or something like that.
This collection, while perhaps not giving the fullest single view of Bolano's stylistics, none the less pleases throughout for many reasons. Far sparser, and far more restrained than 'The Savage Detectives', this book might be called 'ode to marginalia'. A recurrent figure is the unsuccessful writer, no doubt a reflection of Bolano's own years of rejection. Dark, witty, but always earnest, this collection provides character vignettes which do not depend on high phrases or intricate psychoanalysis for their texture. Bolano reveals tensions, contradictions, and regret through understatement, rather than exposure, and these stories thrill by disappointing . . . conclusions are never conclusive, and discoveries are never certain. The successive tales all float about in a fog of open-ended indecision, which is as charming as it is maddening. In doing so, Bolano brings a uniquely felt point of view to the ways in which people try, and fail, to ensure their own immortality.
This collection does not attempt the cosmological anarchy of '2666' or 'The Savage Detectives', but its brevity and incisions of calm fury make for very provocative reading. There's really not much like this to be found in English language writing.