The Return
Roberto Bolaño
Chris Andrews, Translator

(New Directions)
The fame that came to Bolaño after his death in 2003 has presented us with a flood of short stories, novels, poems and articles about him and his brief life (he died at age fifty).

We've count ourselves as being among those of his most ardent admirers. Our all-time Top Pops fiction lists Amulet, By Night in Chile and Distant Star --- along with his superb book of poetry The Romantic Dogs, all published by New Directions.

But Bolaño is an acquired taste, and his recent fame means that some less worthy stories are getting into print. Of the thirteen included in this collection only four are vaut le voyage. Perhaps the editor felt the same, for these four are bound together at the heart of The Return. Two have to do with pornographic movies, one deals with random murder, and the last --- the title story --- offers, gulp, necrophilia.

The two porn stories are the most suggestive and, if I may coin a phrase, the most engrossing. Joanna Silvestri flies in to LA from Italy to star in a series of lurid films, the usual startingly lorky men shown in endless couplings with women.

Joanna, however, is a woman with a dream. She wants to pass time with the famous king of porn, Jack Holmes. She manages to find her way to his cottage in Monrovia, where he lives, alone, dying of AIDS. (Presumably: the word is never used, but he is thin, ill; wasting away.)

Jack tells her that "after so many movies he is worn out," but they do engage in a bit of byplay and ... as is true of all of Bolaño's stories ... the story is but a small part of what we get.

We readers, no matter how much we may resist, find ourselves immersed in a universe of porn: who is acting where, who is losing it, who has "crossed over" into (what should we call them? the lines get exotically blurred) straight films.

What happens to the characters is pure Bolaño. This Holmes, this worn-out has-been of the in-'n'-out industry, over the course of sixteen pages, is transformed into a god. He visits the set where Joanna is busy at work ("I was on all fours, sucking Bull Edwards while Shane Bogart sodomized me...") and a divine ambiance overtakes the whole scene: "A silence fell over the set, not a heavy silence, not the kind that foreshadows bad news, but a luminous silence, so to speak, the silence of water falling in slow motion."

    I sensed something indecipherable approaching, announced by the rhythmic bumping of Shane's hips on my butt.

Most of us, not all that interested in pornographic movies or books or videos, are also not too interested in the characters involved: cameramen, directors, "stars." But it is Bolaño's art to take these characters and give them a touch of the divine.

This, we suggest, is a fine art, and it ends on a fine note. As Joanna leaves Holmes house, she says, "I turned and Jack was there, standing by the gate, watching me, and then I knew that everything was all right, and I could go. That everything was all wrong, and I could go. That everything was sorrow, and I could go."

§     §     §

"The Prefiguration of Lalo Cura" takes on the same subject --- cheesy pornographic film-making --- but in studied (and measured) contrast to the previous story. We are not paired with the star, but with Lalo Cura --- his last name means "priest" in Spanish --- who was born, in a manner of speaking, to the manor.

Literally: his mother Connie starred in several lurid movies, even while she was heavy with child. Niggling details of the dirty-movie biz surface here, ones that we would never have thought of (did Bolaño dream them up?) "cannibal porn," "lacto-porn" ... and "Pregnant Fantasies" being the most striking. The only thing missing is what they call "diaper bondage."

The focus here is on Pajarito Gómez, a most unprepossessing man. His name means "little bird," with all that implies. He's a man who, like Holmes, has influenced many other porn stars because of what the author calls his "inner vibration." He is, too, like Holmes, a seedy nobody. "I guess being with Pajarito was like being nowhere," says Cura.

Bolaño again arranges for us to spend time with a few genuine low-lifes ... who seem to have something else going for themselves (Cura is a part-time thug who has "snuffed" a few people, yet he reads exotic poetry; film director Bittrich, when not making exotic porn flicks, flirts "with solitude and black holes.")

Most of all there is Pajarito, a man who, while working before the camera, managed to visit Lalo before he was even born: came on him, forgive me, in utero. He's a man whose one impressive trait is not his endowment, nor his body, but his eyes, eyes that sought out "Fetuses and other tiny wide-eyed creatures;" eyes full of

    humanity and fear and fetuses lost in the immensity of memory.
--- C. A. Amantea
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