Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review

Last Evenings on Earth

Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review

Last Evenings on Earth

Article excerpt

Last Evenings on Earth, by Roberto Bolaño, translated by Chris Andrews. New Directions, May 2006. $23.95

Roberto Bolaño arrives on the scene in English in time for us to regret his recent death, in 2003. New Directions has already brought out two of his novels, Distant Star and By Night in Chile, with plans to publish eight more of his works in the US. For this reader, Bolaño's stories alone are cause for astonishment: the short story is not the most flexible form; it resists seamless innovation far more resolutely than the novel, its capacious and genial cousin. There are times reading these stories when Bolaño's success seems to amount to a deception practiced on the genre itself, fooling the short story, lulling it, saying to it, These are straightforward narratives, nothing strange here-this is just a story about a rootless literary man who knows a reasonably literary dentist who may or may not be homosexual. Or in another instance, Here is an account of a very minor exiled writer who is encouraged by a minor exiled writer to cheat provincial literary prize committees. The short story sits back, shuts its eyes, relaxes, while paragraph by paragraph and line by line, Bolaño busies himself with other rhythms, some indefinable pulse that he modulates through and behind the story's more obvious plotlines.

For his stories do not seem initially auspicious. Like some easygoing humanist chess master, he seems to set himself the same problem again and again: rootless South American leaves Argentina or Chile because of political persecution, takes up residence somewhere in the Spanish-language diaspora, meets strange and interesting people. …

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