Roberto Bolaño is one of those writers whose works I’ve been meaning to read. So when I came across his short story, Prefiguration of Lalo Cura, on The New Yorker website, I read it at once. The description on the site reads “short story about a Columbian man remembering his childhood with his mother who was a porn actress…” So be warned, the material is quite graphic and explicit. I was captivated by the opening paragraph:
It’s hard to believe, but I was born in a neighborhood called Los Empalados: The Impaled. The name glows like the moon. The name opens a way through the dream with its horn, and man follows that path. A quaking path. Invariably harsh. The path that leads into or out of Hell. That’s what it all comes down to. Getting closer to Hell or farther away. Me, for example, I’ve had people killed. I’ve given the best birthday presents. I’ve backed projects of epic proportions. I’ve opened my eyes in the dark. Once, I opened them by slow degrees in total darkness, and all I saw or imagined was that name: Los Empalados, shining like the star of destiny.
I chuckled to myself, quite aware that I was reading the work of a masterful writer, settled into my chair to enjoy what was to come. What enfolds next in the story was entirely different and left me unsettled. For most of the story, Lalo recounts various films that his mother Connie, his aunt Doris and their friend Monica and several male actors acted in during Lalo’s childhood. These films are described, scene by scene, in some detail. These descriptions don’t glorify pornography. Yet, as told by Lalo, whose mind is strange, these descriptions are disturbing. Lalo also seems fixated on two characters; Bittrich, the German director of the films and Pajarito Gómez.
Pajarito had this continuous vibration, and watching him, sooner or later, depending on your powers of resistance, you’d be transfixed by the energy emanating from that scrap of a man, who looked so feeble. So unprepossessing, so undernourished. So strangely triumphant. The preeminent porn actor in Bittrich’s Colombian cycle.
In the end, Lalo, the grown man, the killer, seeks out Pajarito, the only survivor of actors and workers of the Olimpo Movie Production Company. The story is interspersed with short histories of the Medellín, of Columbia, and of some of devastation that has plagued the nation. It is a mix of violence, sex, failed artists and dashed dreams. I’m not sure that I enjoyed the story. Yet, I found Bolaño’s ability to hold my focus on such sad characters fascinating. I’m intrigued by his writing and will definitely read his novels. I just don’t know if I recommend the story. The translator of the story is Chris Andrews
Have you read any of Roberto Bolaño’s work? What do you think of his work?