Friday, December 26, 2008

The New Yorker: “Meeting with Enrique Lihn” by Roberto Bolaño

This is the one story in this double issue that I didn’t love. And the main reason for not liking it is that the bulk of the story is a dream, and fictional dreams are, to me, undermining the fiction. It’s ironic, since the whole thing is made up anyway, but when a dream is layered on top of the fiction, the fiction itself becomes unbelievable to me, and I don’t see the point of unbelievable fiction. (Even science fiction, fantasy, and magical realism have to establish their own realities within which the story can occur; dreams even in those worlds bend the rules unacceptably.) So it was a disappointment to me when this story began with a dream in which the narrator, who has the same name as the author, is taken to a meeting with Enrique Lihn, who the narrator knows to be dead. The story of that meeting is clever and interesting, but since the whole thing is a dream it is hard to care. Except for this, which very nearly redeems the story for me: near the end of the meeting, Lihn says, “You’re not going to believe this, Bolaño, but in this neighborhood only the dead go out for a walk.” Suggesting that it wasn’t a dream at all, but that the narrator is dead and has indeed come to meet with Lihn. I don’t know when this story was written, but the author died in 2003, which makes the story more appealing. So, I don’t love this story, but I can imagine that some might. I hope fans of the story will comment and explain their views.

December 22 & 29, 2008: “Meeting with Enrique Lihn” by Roberto Bolaño.

3 comments:

mflaher3 said...

I really disagree with you. I absolutely love Bolano's story. To me, dreaming is part of our reality in that we experience our dreams (mentally, if not physically). What impressed me most is the dream world he created. Typically dream fiction is too consistent, or overly symbolic and just too tidy. The weaving in and out of rooms and character, the constant changing of the "sets" ... all of this worked very well for me.

Clifford Garstang said...

I enjoyed some of the same aspects of the story and the constant changing; but it didn't grab me as "story." But I appreciate what you're saying. Thanks for the comment!

Anonymous said...

Clifford,

I understand your reaction to the story. However, there may be much that was lost in translation. The first and most important being the fact that Enrique Lihn was indeed a real person, in a historical sense. According to Wikipedia, Lihn was a Chilean poet and writer and it seems his work wrestled extensively with death: "Lihn views both the past and the future as forms of death, and his emphasis on this point is evident throughout his literary works."

Given that context, and the fact that Bolano himself was a younger literary light of Chile, there may be much below the surface of the story.

But although I must have missed a lot of the context, the story itself was fully satisfactory. It was almost like a fable, maybe a magic realist fable. Besides, the voice, the tone, and the sense of unreality--strange yet familiar--made for wonderful read.

I am hopeful, you will give the story--and the author, another chance.

Finally, I recently, discovered your blog and enjoy it immensely. I especially like comparing my reactions to TNY stories to yours.

Keep it up.

Best.