This is the part in which nothing happens, and what does happen you don't care about.

"People have a thirst to learn about other people's lives" a character says (p. 200). Maybe, if they are interesting. Rosa leaves her husband Amalfitano, a minor character from Part I, to pursue her bizarre obsession with a mad poet. Now, we need not admire a character to be vested in her struggle -- few readers feel sympathy for Raskolnikov, but our interest hangs on his every move and his perverse moral reflections. The miserable wretches in Down and Out in Paris and London (future book club candidate?) are among the most sympathetic I've encountered. We just need some reason to care. Rosa abandons her husband and daughter, leads a rough, aimless life, sleeps around, and finally gets AIDS. Makes sense. Doesn't make empathy.

Amalfitano morosely reads Rosa's missives, and gamely gives up his savings to keep her afloat when she returns for a last visit with the daughter. Not exactly a noble struggle against evil. Not really noble, or a struggle, at all: no stand taken, no points made. Amalfitano tries to distract himself from his own demons by musing on Heidegger and drawing puzzling relationship diagrams of intellectuals, apparently an attempt to tickle the highbrow reader with literary name-dropping.

Is this supposed to be a portrait of mental illness? It's a far cry from Of Mice and Men. It doesn't even measure up to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time which at least provided a puzzle you could try to solve. Oh wait, I remember Amalfitano asked someone if he could "construct a hexagon." Anyone who understands what this challenge means will probably find it trivial.

Toward the end of the section, a badass sort of character appeared, named Guerra, and I made a note: "Maybe this is the dude killing all those women and now some plot will happen." It was only a quarter of the way into the novel, and my hope had not yet been extinguished that one of these weak intellectuals would raise himself into a proper dramatic conflict. Guerra seemed to be a nihilist sort of potential villain, with his bellicose name and grandstanding speeches: "People are cowards to the last breath. I'm telling you between you and me: the human being, broadly speaking, is the closest thing there is to a rat."

But the bad boy is as much an empty sack as any other character. "The truth is, I don't have friends. I don't want any. At least, I'd rather not have friends who're Mexicans. Mexicans are rotten inside, did you know? Every last one of them. No one escapes. From the president of the republic to that clown Subcomandante Marcos. If I were Subcomandante Marcos, you know what I'd do? I'd launch an attack with my whole army on any city in Chiapas, so long as it had a strong military garrison. And there I'd sacrifice my poor Indians. And then I'd probably go live in Miami."

So much for plot.

Part I

Part III

Part IV


    wretches in Down and Out in Paris and London (future book club candidate?)
A thousand times yes.

posted 2351 days ago