‘Gómez Palacio’ by Roberto Bolaño

Gómez Palacio by Roberto Bolaño, 2001

The magic trick:

Generating a remarkable vibe of monotonous hopelessness

Bolaño was born in Chile and lived in Spain, so why is it part of Mexico week on the SSMT site? Well, “Gómez Polacio” is set in Mexico, and the setting is crucial to the vibe. It’s 100 percent a Mexico story.

It’s a weird one too. I’d compare it to ambient music. It just kind of floats above a sea of white noise, never makes a definitive move toward melody (or plot), but leaves you feeling extraordinarily affected.

How? Why?

I wish I knew. I’d write a lot of stories just like this if I knew how.

There is a strange tension that hangs about the story – also a mystery to me because certainly nothing in the plot would indicate anything like suspense. Perhaps it stems from the narrator’s relentlessly gray outlook. Everything he tells us about the place and this time in his life is either explicitly negative or quietly pessimistic. He can’t sleep. He condescendingly assesses the students and people around him as pathetic, talentless nobodies. The result is an amazingly somber vibe, a feeling that – to quote Morrissey – life is very long when you’re lonely. And that’s quite a trick on Bolaño’s part.

The selection:

Then we read some poems. The only one who had any talent was the girl. But by then I wasn’t sure of anything. When we came out of the classroom, the director was waiting with two guys who turned out to be civil servants employed by the state of Durango. My first thought was: They’re policemen, here to arrest me. The kids said goodbye and off they went, the skinny girl with one of the boys and the other three on their own. I followed them down the hallway with its peeling walls, as if I had forgotten to say something to one of them. From the door I saw them disappear at both ends of that street in Gómez Palacio.


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