Read Roberto Bolaño’s short story “William Burns”

Untitled (Two Dogs Fighting), Bill Traylor

I could no longer hold out on reading Roberto Bolaño’s collection The Return. I’ve been saving the book for two years now, but reading Chris Andrews’s new study Roberto Bolaño’s Fiction: An Expanding Universe prompted me to dive in the other night. (I also maybe abandoned Michel Houellebecq’s The Possibility of an Island, which nags at me like a duty, a chore, and not a joy). 

I had, of course, read a few of the stories collected in The Return over the years (and shared them on this site); they were published by The New Yorker, including one of my favorites, “William Burns,” (translated, like all the stories in The Return, by Andrews. 

“William Burns” is one of Bolaño’s rare stories set in the U.S. It’s about a “laid-back guy who never lost his cool,” a private investigator hired to protect two women who believe they are being stalked by a killer. The story is suffused with sinister malice that burns into fated violence, made all the more ominous by the Bolaño’s typically atypical moments of banality. (The story reads almost as Bolaño’s riff on Raymond Carver). 

Anyway, a favorite passage; read the whole thing here:

If I were a dog, I thought resentfully, these women would show me a bit more consideration. Later, after I realized that none of us were feeling sleepy, they started talking about children, and their voices made my heart recoil. I have seen terrible, evil things, sights to make a hard man flinch, but, listening to the women that night, my heart recoiled so violently it almost disappeared. I tried to butt in, I tried to find out if they were recalling scenes from childhood or talking about real children in the present, but I couldn’t. My throat felt as if it were packed with bandages and cotton swabs.

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Ten Story Ideas from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Notebooks

Unusual death—man pierced by his own belt buckle.

Boobs Bones Mistaken for John The Baptist

Story: A man who wanted an elephant, or some such one of the wisest of beasts who could not talk. Then began to try to teach him to talk.

The Dancer Who Found She Could Fly

Words

A famous writer fakes his own death but things make him come back.
Or else he can’t.

G. men as Samurai class.

Piggy Back Voyage

Girl whose ear is so sensitive she can hear radio. Man gets her out of insane asylum to use her.

Book: It might have been me. My old idea of half truth half lie, including all notes and everything. Shoot the works.

From F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Notebooks.

RIP Daniel Keyes

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RIP Daniel Keyes, 1927-2014.

Keyes is best known for Flowers for Algernon, which you may have (like me) read in middle school.

Portrait of Edgar Allan Poe — Henri Matisse

“Literature is a struggle over the nature of reality” (Dmitry Samarov’s Portrait of Richard Wright)

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Check out more of Dmitry Samarov’s greeting cards for the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame.

Portrait of Walt Whitman — Thomas Wilmer Dewing

RIP Maya Angelou

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RIP Maya Angelou, 1928-2014

In my time as a teacher, I’ve seen Maya Angelou’s stories and poems—and in particular her memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings—command the attention of students who had previously complained that they hated reading. I’ve seen my classroom library looted of her works; I’ve seen tattered copies of her books passed from hand to hand; I’ve had students ask for More please, more of this, more like this. Angelou’s writing has served as a bridge to life-long reading habits for many young people, and I imagine it will into the future. RIP.

Umberto Eco — Rudcef

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Bruno Jasieński’s The Legs of Izolda Morgan (Book Acquired, 5.01.2014)

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The recent publication of Bruno Jasieński’s The Legs of Izolda Morgan offers another strong argument that Twisted Spoon Press is publishing some of the most fascinating—and most beautiful—books available today. Clothbound and handsomely printed, Izolda Morgan collects several of Jasieński’s futurist manifestos, an essay, stories, and satires.

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Publisher’s blurb:

Considered the enfant terrible of the Polish avant-garde, lauded by critics and scorned by the public, Bruno Jasieński suddenly declared the end of Futurism in Poland soon after his short “novel” The Legs of Izolda Morgan appeared in 1923. An extraordinary example of Futurist prose, this fantastic tale cautions against the machine supplanting the human while the human body is disaggregated into fetishized constituent parts. As central to Jasieński’s oeuvre, the text is situated here between two seminal manifestoes and the important essay “Polish Futurism,” which signaled the movement’s end in the context of its confused reception in Poland, the towering influence of Mayakovsky, and what set it apart from the futurisms of Italy and Russia. The condensed story “Keys” displays Jasieński’s turn toward satire to lambaste the hypocrisies pervasive in powerful institutions, and this is further developed in the two longer grotesques from his time in the Soviet Union in the 1930s. Translated into English from the Russian for the first time, these two late stories expose the nefarious absurdity of racial persecution and warmongering and the lengths social and political structures will go to underpin them.

 

 

A manifesto:

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Katherine Anne Porter and Eudora Welty at Yaddo in 1941

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RIP Gabriel García Márquez

RIP Gabriel García Márquez, 1927-2014

Gabo the Giant is dead.

Long live the Giant.

“The Anarchist: His Dog” — Susan Glaspell

“The Anarchist: His Dog”

by Susan Glaspell

Stubby had a route, and that was how he happened to get a dog. For the benefit of those who have never carried papers it should be thrown in that having a route means getting up just when there is really some fun in sleeping, lining up at the Leader office—maybe having a scrap with the fellow who says you took his place in the line—getting your papers all damp from the press and starting for the outskirts of the city. Then you double up the paper in the way that will cause all possible difficulty in undoubling and hurl it with what force you have against the front door. It is good to have a route, for you at least earn your salt, so your father can’t say that any more. If he does, you know it isn’t so.

When you have a route, you whistle. All the fellows whistle. They may not feel like it, but it is the custom—as could be sworn to by many sleepy citizens. And as time goes on you succeed in acquiring the easy manner of a brigand.

Stubby was little and everything about him seemed sawed off just a second too soon,—his nose, his fingers, and most of all, his hair. His head was a faithful replica of a chestnut burr. His hair did not lie down and take things easy. It stood up—and out!—gentle ladies couldn’t possibly have let their hands sink into it—as we are told they do—for the hands just wouldn’t sink. They’d have to float.

And alas, gentle ladies didn’t particularly want their hands to sink into it. There was not that about Stubby’s short person to cause the hands of gentle ladies to move instinctively to his head. Stubby bristled. That is, he appeared to bristle. Inwardly, Stubby yearned, though he would have swung into his very best brigand manner on the spot were you to suggest so offensive a thing. Just to look at Stubby you’d never in a thousand years guess what a funny feeling he had sometimes when he got to the top of the hill where his route began and could see a long way down the river and the town curled in on the other side. Sometimes when the morning sun was shining through a mist—making things awful queer—some of the mist got into Stubby’s squinty little eyes. After the mist behaved that way he always whistled so rakishly and threw his papers with such abandonment that people turned over in their beds and muttered things about having that little heathen of a paper boy shot. Read More