Shelf Defense: 2666

In late 2011 I decided, in the hopes of keeping my library down to a manageable size, to comb through the unread sections in alphabetical order. It was a naïve, Sisyphean project, and it will take forever—so I’d better get moving. Shelf Defense is my occasional notebook about what I dig up, from Alphabet Juice to Point Omega.

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ROBERTO BOLAÑO, 2666 (2004, TRANS. NATASHA WIMMER)

WHY DO I OWN THIS?: Because Chapters was (and still is!) remaindering paperbacks for a cool $10 while I was on parental leave last year.

THOUGHTS: For reasons of size, prestige, and overall heft, this deserves its own entry. Like The Savage Detectives before it, I am shocked and delighted to know that a book as wildly fractured as 2666 became a legitimate publishing phenomenon. It asks a lot—not in terms of readability, or sentence-by-sentence insight, but its cumulative weight. And it delivers. The centre of the book is Santa Teresa, where hundreds of women have been murdered throughout the ’90s and beyond. Orbiting the town, literally and thematically, are literary critics, boxers, computer salesmen, crooked police officers, and one reclusive author. My friend Cam correctly described Part 4 as 300 pages of The Wire, and that is not light or tossed-off praise. I was baffled time and again by how much Bolaño can wring out, how many fully formed lives and relationships, from such simple sentences. Then, whenever the whim strikes him, he turns on the juice. I’ll admit that right up to the last 80 or so pages, I had zero faith the different threads were going to come together. This was “admire,” not “love” territory. Boy was I wrong. The ending of 2666 is gorgeous, profound, and all kinds of satisfying. It also makes the best use of ice cream since How I Became a Nun (granted, not that long ago—but both are brilliant).

Now I’m probably not going to be able to stop thinking about it for the rest of the summer. So if anyone has any particularly strong investigative/analytic essays, please share. In the meantime, I’m off to order Antwerp.

KEEP OR SELL: Keep.

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