Lines in the Sand
By Robert Bolaño
912 pages; Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Chilean novelist and poet Roberto Bolaño died in 2003, at only 50, cutting short a career that swept over the literary world like a tidal wave. His final novel, 2666 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), published posthumously, takes on the real-life subject of hundreds of women who have been found killed over the last 15 years in the desert outside Ciudad Juárez on the Mexican-American border, one of the most disturbing series of crimes in Latin American history. Holding a reviewer's copy of 2666 in public was like brandishing the newest Harry Potter at the playground three months before the on-sale date. Half a dozen eager strangers who'd heard about the book spoke to me while I was reading it. Bolaño has particularly captured the imaginations of younger readers because his work is rather like a video game or a set of nested webpages, stories within stories with many apparent authors, and little sense of predetermined purpose. This five-part novel jumps from subject to subject, asking you to intuit the relevance of each to each: an obscure German novelist, a sad Mexican professor, reporters on the Juárez murders, policemen, and more. Bolaño recognizes that we live in a cacophony of a million public voices—his work evokes American pulp, Gabriel García Márquez, and Mexican surrealist Juan Rulfo, a fluid range of styles held together in a structural grip all Bolaño's own. Every scene is powerful and realistic; yet the overall effect is hallucinatory and dreamlike. What he captures so artfully is how a world headed toward chaos, exploitation, and violence can still be home to souls guided by gentleness and truth. The book is long and intense, but it is also the work of an extraordinary artist facing certain ultimate realities, and so will repay every moment of attention you can give it.