A Rare Moment of Real Connection

So many of the human connections in 2666 are superficial. Even Pelletier and Espinoza, whom we think of as a strange mix of bosom buddies and rivals, have a brief chat about loyalty and (if I recall correctly) how it’s not worth much. Their relationship with Norton is strange, at times urgent and yet at other times disposable. Norton and Morini’s getting together was something of a bolt out of the blue and still, frankly, seems kind of strange, as if it fit formally the arrangement Bolaño wanted to create but with no real believable basis in the text itself.

Fate sees some moments of connection at his mother’s neighbor’s apartment, but he’s not really involved in them. He’s not exactly close to Guadalupe and in fact almost abandons her. Rosa Amalfitano he develops something of an across-the-room crush on, and he does wind up rescuing her, but I don’t know that there’s anything to that acquaintance that I’d call an especially close or connected relationship. Rosa’s father and mother are about as distant as can be imagined, and though Lola begins living with her graveyard lover, it seems to me that it’s as much a financial arrangement as one of true and lasting affinity. Lola’s connection — a very close one in her mind — with the poet she pursues is imagined.

In last week’s reading, we met Juan de Dios Martinez and Elvira Campos. He desperately wants connection, but she keeps him at arm’s length. Sure, she’ll nail him on a rigid twice-monthly schedule, but forget pillow-talk afterward, much less anything gesturing in the direction of a meaningful relationship.

The backdrop for all this aloofness, it should be noted, is a series of grisly crimes perpetrated as acts of unwanted connection.

At last, on page 408, we have a real connection. Erica Delmore is looking for her friend Lucy Anne Sander, who is later found murdered. She finally starts going to hospitals to ask if any American women have been admitted. At the last one, she has this experience:

[A] nurse suggested she try the Clinica America, a private hospital, but she answered with a burst of sarcasm. We’re blue-collar workers, honey, she said in English. Like me, said the nurse, also in English. The two of them talked for a while and then the nurse invited Erica to have coffee at the hospital cafeteria, where she informed her that many women disappeared in Santa Teresa. It’s the same in the United States, said Erica. The nurse met her eyes and shook her head. It’s worse here, she said. When they parted, they exchagned phone numbers and Erica promised to keep the nurse posted on any developments.

It seems an empty enough gesture. How often do we say, even to people we consider to be fairly close friends, that we’ll call, with no real intention of doing so? But get this: Just a couple of pages later, after they’ve found Erica’s friend, she calls the nurse to let her know the body has been found. When she gets to the morgue to identify the body, the nurse has, unasked, come to help her through it:

As they were waiting in a corridor in the basement, the nurse appeared. They hugged and kissed each other on the cheek. Then she introduced the nurse to Henderson, who greeted her distractedly but wanted to know how long they’d known each other. Twenty-four hours, said the nurse. Or less. It’s true, thought Erica, just a day, but I already feel as if I’ve known her for a long time.

It’s tempting to call this a Good Samaritan moment, though I’m not sure the politics of the different cultures (somewhat distrustful of one another) in Bolaño’s vignette quite lines up with those in the source material. Still, it’s a nice little moment of human connection, an oasis of friendliness in a desert of aloofness.

5 thoughts on “A Rare Moment of Real Connection

  1. Paul March 14, 2010 / 8:51 pm

    You know, I found this moment between the two women to be incredibly warm and genuine (even if it was less than 24 hours that they knew each other). And I think you’ve hit the reason why…it is the first real connection in the book. And neither one thought the other was a whore either!

  2. Jeff Anderson March 14, 2010 / 10:20 pm

    I think I’ve actually been more touched by Erica Delmore than any of the other characters so far. She breaks my heart on 408: “After trying to come up with other reasons that might explain why Lucy Anne would be in a hospital, all she could think of was an amnesia attack. The likelihood was so remote that her eyes filled with tears.” Then later that same page: “She ate outside at a restaurant in the center of the city and twice she thought she saw Lucy Anne walking along the sidewalk, once coming toward her and once heading away, but it wasn’t really Lucy Anne either time.” She feels more like a real character than most of the cardboard cutouts we’ve read about, and Bolaño’s portrait of her grief over a lost friend is really quite beautiful. For me, it’s not just her connection with the nurse that’s rare in the book, but mine with her.

  3. Dan Summers March 15, 2010 / 10:51 am

    I wonder what it says that Lucy Anne, an American, is the only one whose death provokes such a genuine human response in a novel where human relationships are otherwise so etiolated. It’s not just Erica Delmore, but also Harry Magaña.

  4. naptimewriting March 16, 2010 / 1:45 pm

    What a welcome glimmer of humanity this connection is, too. I’m feeling less and less engaged in this novel for its lack of connections, which is probably the intended reaction to an unending march of grisly, unsolved murders and general atmospheric hopelessness. I appreciate the connection they made, and it made me desperately thirsty for more. Someone, PLEASE, connect with someone else.

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