by Killian Quigley
Published by New Directions, 2011 | 192 pages
On the campgrounds of Stella Maris, in the seaside town of Z, something doesn’t smell right. Gaspar Heredia, night watchman, is assigned the task of finding out who is smearing shit all over the bathroom walls. His investigation leads him to two of the more curious campers: a young woman covered in blood and her unlikely companion, an elderly opera singer. The mystery of the shit will remain so, as Roberto Bolaño’s latest translated work from New Directions, The Skating Rink, is concerned with a far more dangerous implication: you.
Bolaño would have you believe that a murder is what lies at the heart of this tale, a murder swathed in the trivialities of politics and the petty jealousies of misguided hearts. The three men who tell you their sides of the story profess their innocence and, as in much of Bolaño’s fiction, there is a weighted, seedy guilt to every voice. The Skating Rink is a psychological slow-burner.
There is enough going on here (enough blood, deception, sex, suspicion, arias and ice) to keep you turning the page. One of Bolaño’s greater talents as a writer is flaunting convention by following it to the letter. He abuses the mystery genre to reveal that you, the reader, are the omnipotent party to literature’s Murphy’s Law: anything that happens to these characters happens because you are reading it.
In an essay published in the Argentine newspaper La Nación (English translation published by Guernica Magazine in November 2009), Horacio Castellanos Moya castigates the North American hype machine that brought Bolaño to our attention. And perhaps its Moya’s exile in Tokyo that has caused him to miss a most important point: doesn’t he understand what a relief it is to learn that North America even has a publishing hype machine? Hype or no, the Bolaño myth sells books. A myth greater than the one surrounding Roberto Bolaño is that of the death of books. If anything, the hype surrounding the remarkable works of a remarkable writer is proof the public needs to see that literature is far from the brink of extinction. If anything, the Bolaño myth should be impetus enough for North American publishers to probe the international community for the next literati savoir faire.
I say, build the myth as much as you like. From here to the gardens of Babylon, feed us more stories of The Bolaño Who Would Be God. What it comes down to is this: all we want is a good read, and Bolaño has yet to disappoint. With The Skating Rink, Bolaño’s calculated and deft prose becomes the antidote to myth, exposing the underbelly of a world so real it verges on the precipice of nightmare.
Gabriel Levinson is the former reviews editor for MAKE. He is the founder of Something To Read, a Chicago-based literary laboratory responsible for the Book Bike and DEUSEXPAGINA, the world’s first journal dedicated to literary quantum mechanics. Learn more at http://www.somethingtoread.net.