Last Evenings on Earth by Roberto Bolaño

We never stop reading, although every book comes to an end, just as we never stop living, although death is certain.”

Last Evenings on Earth is a dreamlike collection of 14 short stories by Chilean writer Roberto Bolaño. I write “middling” with affection; many of the stories in this collection are semi-autobiographical in spirit if not fact and the author focuses on what it’s like to be a writer of low notoriety. Many of the stories include petty jealousies and insecurities amongst artists in social circles, and I have to think Bolaño is poking fun at himself. He’s also poking at some contemporaries.

“B” (Bolaño?) is the protagonist in many of the stories, although it’s unclear if B is always the same person or even whether other featured protagonists are also B. Uncertainty and ambiguity (factual and moral) are ever present here. Look at the cover – it’s perfect for the writing. Common threads also include travel; the undecipherable meaning of our problems and loves and lives; and also a kind of potential menace underlying any group of people.

The most representative story included here is probably Last Evenings on Earth (name of the story and the book – kind of like a song/album combo). It’s a story about a father and son with a tense relationship going on a vacation together. You’ve got the father-son thing, the ambiguity of events and morals, the longing to be connected to people, all in one. You can find this story for free in the New Yorker if you can’t track down this book. If you like this, you’ll probably like the whole book.

My personal favorite story is Gomez Palacio, a ten-pager about a short writing workshop in Mexican small town. The main character is very “B” like, but the real protagonist is a woman working the local arts council. Nothing really happens in the story, but it’s like an old photo. Just within the few pages you know so much is happening and has happened.

[A quick trigger warning – the book deals with some harsh realities and some bad people.]