Friday, February 05, 2010

The New Yorker: "William Burns" by Roberto Bolaño

I have little to say about this story. It is framed, as some other Bolaño stories are, as a story told to him by someone else. It involves Burns, an American who becomes involved with two women who live together, along with their dogs. They ask for his protection against a killer and in the process of his protection, he kills the “killer.” He eventually realizes that the man he has killed is no killer. Later, Burns himself is killed, presumably by his successor, just as he was apparently his victim’s successor. And that’s about it. I have no idea why The New Yorker thought this was worthy of publication.

February 8, 2010: “William Burns” by Roberto Bolaño


Anonymous said...

How do you know that William Burns was "apparently" his victim's successor? A the end of the story, Burns concludes that the man he killed was just looking for his dog.

I would appreciate answering it.

My Email:

Clifford Garstang said...

Oh, I don't really know anything. The story tells us that the storekeeper's dog seemed to know the women. Could be just from their visits to the store, or maybe the guy had spent a lot of time with them. Also, how did the storekeeper know to come to that house looking for his dog? And the fact that the women rush to cover up the killing and hide the body suggest that they got what they wanted. I also wondered if that's how they acquired their other dogs. Finally, Burns's death suggests a cycle.

And besides, it was the only interesting interpretation of the story I could come up with!

Anonymous said...

But I think the fact that the man and the women had met before doesn't necessarily mean he was Burns' predecessor (in terms of protecting the women). Moreover, since the women have the man's address, it is obvious that they already know him, but I don't know why they gave the address to Burns as the killer address.

Don't you think the story implies that the real killers are the women themselves?

And, do you have any idea what does this statement by Burns mean: “I’ll go back to the city,” I said, “and I’ll pick up the investigation exactly where I got off the track.”

Thank you so much

Clifford Garstang said...

If they themselves are the killers, why did they need Burns to kill the storekeeper? I'm envisioning them luring men to help them kill and then get someone else to kill the men who leave them. They were the ones who called the storekeeper a killer, and perhaps he was, in the same way that Burns is now a killer.

As for that line about the investigation--I have no idea.

Anonymous said...

I think I got it Mr. Garstang; William Burns was most probably a private investigator and had been hired by the women. That's why he talked about picking up investigation when asked what he would do next.
What do you think?

Besides, if this were the case, the storekeeper couldn't be Burns predecessor.

Mark Richardson said...

I too can't see why The New Yorker chose
to publishe this. And I like paragraphs.

Clifford Garstang said...

Heh. I forgot to mention the lack of paragraph breaks. That bugged me, too.

Paul said...

Haven't read it but some casual googling reveals that it's probably a novel excerpt.

Surely that deserves a digression about why the New Yorker prints so many novel excerpts but doesn't identify them, and how the universe would be a better place (but only marginally) if the New Yorker didn't do this.

Paul Epstein

Mikel said...

How would you describe Burns as a character? He seems very scatter brained when he recalls the event.

Anonymous said...

Also, look up the name William Burns and you will find William J. Burns was a famous detective and director of the BOI. This is something that should be considered I think.