"The Prefiguration of Lalo Cura"
by Roberto Bolaño
Originally published in the April 19, 2010 issue of The New Yorker.
Click here to read the story in its entirety on The New Yorker webpage.

Click for a larger image.

I can already hear several of you gritting your teeth at seeing another Roberto Bolaño story in these pages. I have to admit, I still get very excited at the prospect of reading him. A little bit ago I finished the most recent release, Antwerp, and it left me confused and elated, as usual.

“The Prefiguration of Lalo Cura,” on the other hand, left me incredibly disturbed. Let’s start this with a warning: this is a very explicit piece. Lalo Cura is the son of a renegade priest (who has run away, leaving Lalo, like so many of Bolaño’s characters, fatherless) and a porn actress, starring in films by the “multi-talented” German Bittrich, who is always seeking poetry and foreboding in his films. Religion and sex: I realize that that sums up much of the subcurrent I remember feeling when I was roaming in the poor areas of Latin America.

Much of the story is a recounting of the various films his mother, her little sister, and their friend acted in in the 1970s and 1980s. Lalo watches as his mother, pregnant with him, is exploited on screen. The name of the town is Los Emplanados: “The Impaled.” These are the progenitors of the next generation. One particular actor is the man named Pajarito Gómez; he is described as “hieratic.” There is a reverence to this man who doesn’t look like much but who captivates. It turns out he is the only one still alive at the end of the story, after the passing decades. Lalo seeks him out.

I’m hoping that’s fair warning to many of you. If not, let me go further and say that the images are meant to disturb deeply. This is not glorification of pornography, but neither is it clinically detached. There is an emotional response inherent in the language which also describes death and decay and severe perversion. There are two redeeming factors (if I can call them that): (1) this does succeed in digging beneath the pornography and the awful film gimmicks to look at the peoples’ lives; (2) this is also describing Latin America during this period. Recall what the title indicates: that this is the prefiguration of this child who, we learn from the first paragraph and are reminded at the end, is a killer.

For those of you who haven’t gotten on with Bolaño, I think this highlights his style and yet retains a narrative and code that can be followed. I don’t think this is the story that will change your mind, though. You may want to skip this week’s offering.

Which leads me to my bottom line: though I see value here, and there is some real virtuosity going on, I would have a hard time recommending it to anyone. That said, I wouldn’t dissuade someone interested in reading it and trying to figure out the layers of meaning.

Please feel free to vent to leave comments below.

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