Monday, March 01, 2010

Reader's Diary #586- Roberto Bolaño: Gómez Palacio

Sundays are Amazing Race nights. Each week, we get together with friends to watch the show and we take turns preparing something from the country that the show visits that night. Last week we had cazuela, empanadas, and Chilean wine. Quite a yummy way to celebrate Chilean culture.

Unfortunately, my attention was turned once again to Chile this past Saturday because of the devastating earthquake. While more intense than the Haitian Earthquake, the death toll has been much lower, thankfully, but that's probably of little comfort to the families of the 700+ people who have died so far.

With my thoughts on the Chileans this week, I've gone in search of a Chilean author. Roberto Bolaño was born in Santiago, Chile but moved to Spain in the 1970s where he lived until his death in 2003. He wrote fiction and poetry.

Roberto Bolaño's "Gómez Palacio" is not set in Chile, or Spain, but Mexico. For the second Short Story Monday in a row, I didn't enjoy a story because of an annoying lead character. While Stacey May Fowles' lead character was too self-absorbed, Bolaño's is too condescending. For the record, I don't need a likable character to enjoy a story. They don't get more reprehensible than Vladamir Nabakov's Humbert Humbert, but Lolita is a work of art. If we're not going to get a relatable or at least sympathetic character, we'd better get one heck of a story. This was not the case with "Gómez Palacio."

What makes the lead character in Bolaño's story so detestable? His sense of superiority. The story begins with the narrator whining, "I went to Gómez Palacio during one of the worst periods of my life." If this is a plea for sympathy, it quickly gets rejected when he goes on to add, "I knew that I wouldn’t stick to running a writing workshop in some godforsaken town in northern Mexico." Perhaps, living in northern Canada for the past 8 years, I've grown over sensitive about this mentality. While thankfully they've been the minority, I've met way too many southerners showing up and whining about the godforsaken towns.

In "Gómez Palacio," the narrator and the director of the local Arts Council office seem to take an interest in one another and their relationship becomes the focal point of the story. However, the whole thing is rather slow and depressing, and quite frankly, seems only to confirm the bleak superiority complex set up at the very beginning.

Roberto Bolaño has been a harsh critic of Isabel Allende. Maybe I should have read something by her.

(Did you write a post for Short Story Monday? If so, please leave a link in the comments below.)

8 comments:

´´Saray´´ said...

Isabel Allende comes across as a lovely (and witty) person on TV interviews (she is a favourite writer for many Spaniards; I would say in the top 5 of popularity along with Paul Auster and others) but her books... you´re not missing anything in my humble opinion. Pseudo-literature and too feminist.

JoAnn said...

Maybe my introduction to Bolano should be a short story instead of 2666, although this one doesn't sound all that appealing. I don't need a likable character in order to enjoy a story or novel, so we'll see. I do like Allende!

My post is about a collection of 101 stories, 101 words each:
http://lakesidemusing.blogspot.com/2010/03/anthropology-by-dan-rhodes.html

carolsnotebook said...

We watch the Amazing Race to. I love your idea of serving food matching the country.

Speaking of food, I read a story called "Appetite." Actually, it's not about food, but it is about a cook.

carolsnotebook said...

And I forgot to leave my link.

http://carolsnotebook.wordpress.com/2010/03/01/appetite-by-said-sayrafiezadeh/

Margot at Joyfully Retired said...

I love the Amazing Race too. It's one of my favorites. I like that you celebrate the countries they visit. Good idea.

In my short story this week it's the ending I didn't like. It's a classic, The Lottery. Find it here..

Loni said...

John,
No story this week. I was very busy. However, during my quick trip on the internet this evening I found this:
http://lwot.blogspot.com/2010/03/champions-of-lwot-john-mutford.html
It seems LWOT has written about you... and that they're going to keep writing about you as you participate in Canada Also Reads. Just thought I'd let you know.

John Mutford said...

Loni: Thanks for the heads up.

Teddy Rose said...

I don't think I would care for Gomez Palacio.

I read two more T.C. Boyle shorts. I didn't really do a review but here is the link: http://teddyrose.blogspot.com/2010/02/captured-by-indians-achates-mcneil-and.html