Wobbling onto the court on thin, shaky legs, Steer Toward Rock
feels the crowd watching her and wilts beneath its scrutiny. It’s never easy for a small, quiet bookone that the crowd had never even heard
of before nowto compete in so ferocious a contest as the Tournament of Books.
It doesn’t help that her opponent, 2666
, is a 10-foot-tall, 900-pound giant that explodes onto the court with a bold, unwavering stride and buries her completely in his shadow as he basks in the raucous applause. The odds-on critical favorite, he’s confident he had this thing sewn up the instant he laced his shoes. The crowd knows it, too. Even poor little Rock
As the combatants meet on the floor, a hush descends over the stadium. The crowd leans forward in unison, holding its collective breath, dying to see if this tremulous David can possibly kick Goliath’s towering, five-book-thick ass.
The whistle blows. The ball launches into the air. 2666
shouldn’t have any trouble snatching it right off, but Rock
opens strong: The woman I loved wasn’t in love with me; the woman I married wasn’t a wife to me.
She grabs the ball, darts around 2666
, and charges down the court! Big, lumbering 2666
is still turning, still trying to regain his footing by the time she’s halfway to the hoop.
is telling a story the crowd hasn’t heard before! The Chinese immigrant experience in turn-of-the-century San Francisco is fascinating and
um, hang on, we’re hearing the time period isn’t
the turn of the century. It isn’t until p. 63 that the date is made clear. Well, that’s confusing!
She lays it upbut the huge hand of 2666
drops down from nowhere and snatches the ball in mid-air!
He drives back up the court, the crashing of his mallet-like feet almost buried beneath the thunder of the crowd. The first book of 2666
involves obscure literary critics devoted to a mysterious, obscure German writer. He’s playing right to his crowdall the obscure literary critics and wannabe obscure writers in the stands lunge to their feetthey’re eating it up! His victory seems absolutely assured!!
Wait a second
he tries a single sentence that runs for six pages uninterrupted! But there’s no reason
for it except to showcase his virility and bravado. Some of the crowd bellows ecstatically, but there are scattered groans and boos. 2666
is so distracted showing off that he drops the ball. He had it and he threw it away! Why, 2666
retrieves the ball, swift and nimble, unencumbered by 2666
’s massive pretensions. She drives down the court, looks like she’s going to get there, andwait, what’s this? No quotation marks for dialogue? That’s the literary equivalent of wearing an ascot to a cocktail party! Not even so much as a James Joycean dash, either? The crowd hisses with agitationthere’s nothing worse than pointless literary tricks that detract from the reading experience. Rock
gets tangled up in her smaller, yet no less cumbersome pretensions, and fumbles the ball.
snatches it up and soars back up the court. The pages whip by faster than his pulsating legs! Then, his footing sure, he slows down, takes his time, shifts his setting to the Mexican town of Santa Teresa, where countless young girls have disappeared over the last decadeit’s gruesome but mesmerizing, and suddenly the crowd can’t take their eyes off him! He tosses the ball around his back, shifting from the literary critics to the professor and his daughter, and now to the American journalist who comes to Santa Teresa to write about a boxing match, then to the gruesome murders of Santa Teresa, and now he’s coming back around to the mysterious, elusive German author. It’s all so dizzying, yet it holds together, and the spellbound stadium can’t turn away no matter how horrifiedand he slams the ball through the net! SWISH!
The ball back in her hands, Steer Toward Rock
takes another run at the hoop. She has a poet’s economy with language, although it seems to keep her characters at a distance. Is that her intention? The crowd grows restless, intrigued but not dying
to know what happens next
plows right into herBAM!!
She bounces farther than the ball, andas the inexorable tidal wave that is 2666
sweeps the ball toward the net with unparalleled skill, managing to weave so many disparate threads into a single, overwhelming narrative, a story that, in spanning the entire globe and the spectrum of its people, very nearly encompasses the whole of the modern worldthe roar of the frenzied crowd drowns out the tiny shriek of a whistle. The ref throws a red flag for too much ambition, but there’s no stopping 2666
as the ball swishes effortlessly through the net! WHOOMP, there it is!
Steer Toward Rock
doesn’t even reach for the ball this time. She’s got an interesting story to tell, but she can’t be heard above the din of this five-book extravaganza. With a sigh, she ambles back to the locker roomtoward a smaller, safer tournamentconfident in her ball-handling, but wondering if her moves are fast enough to carry her to the pros.
At her back, a volcanic eruption as 2666
sinks another ball. And another. And the unstoppable Behemoth marches on.
2666 by Roberto Bolaño