william burns

2/8/10 – “William Burns“, by Roberto Bolaño (translated, from the Spanish, by Chris Andrews). Perfect timing: a Roberto Bolaño short story appears in The New Yorker just days after I finish reading The Savage Detectives. A little online sleuthing leads me to believe this is either an excerpt from a story collection being released this summer, or part of a longer story that has yet to be translated. (Note: Bolaño died in 2003.) Regardless…in this story, William Burns, a “laid-back guy who never lost his cool” from Ventura, California, describes his brief experience protecting two women in a home in the mountains from a killer/stalker figure from their pasts. The story reads as though it were told in one breath (due in part to the lack of paragraph breaks), which keeps tensions high and the narration moving forward fast. Burns’ character speaks in a fairly nondescript manner, stating things in a very matter-of-fact, emotionless way throughout…sort of a “this happened, then that, then this” structure. When emotion is present, it feels awkward and confused and out-of-place…which (in my opinion) was very different from the narration in The Savage Detectives. This voice sounded American-ized…presumably Bolaño’s intention. The story’s dark ending was not unexpected, nor was the narrator’s reaction (also dark, to say the least). A quick, crisp, curious read highlighting the too-true notion that “panic is contagious”.

A moment that stood out for me: Burns entering a room during the (violent) climax of the story and observing the following: “There I found the women, sitting very close together on the sofa, almost hugging each other. Something about the scene made me think of a birthday party.”

And just before things really get rolling: “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 it, 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.”

Planning on tackling 2666, Bolaño’s final (900+ page) novel, now…while it’s still dark and cold outside. Wish me luck.


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