Bola?o's ambition in this book is matched only by the breadth and depth of his achievement: he makes us think as seriously as a human being can about how much, and which, details of our experience matter to us, and ought to matter. (The figure of the detective appears in many guises throughout the book, as does the question of what's worth looking for, and how.) If what *you* look for in a novel is a relentlessly forward-moving plot, then you are likely to find 2666 frustrating and boring. But if you are willing to follow Bola?o blindly (and the question of what it is to have and use eyes is also a motif throughout the narrative), you may find your sense of the world, in both its vertiginous vastness and its banality, transformed.
Each narrator handles one of the five "parts" of the book, and each has a singular reading style. All but the one who does Part III -- a man who seems not to have figured out how to convey the tone of Bola?o's writing -- are wonderful.
One wonders why the likes of Lorrie Moore and Michael Chabon are championing this book, which Chabon goes so far as to call a masterpiece. I'm guessing that Moore and Straub are colleagues at UW-Madison; and, as a college professor myself, I can imagine that Moore might have felt she had no other choice.
The characters are poorly developed; one doesn't believe in any of them, let alone care about what happens to them. The plot, such as it is, is propelled along by the author's magical intervention. We learn what each middle-aged character saw "in the meadow" 40 years ago, and the answer is: different kinds of meaningless, even embarrassing, hocus-pocus. Nothing that we learn is even remotely scary, though much of it is laughable (e.g., the devil who shows up dressed in preppy clothes and speaking in a "New York" accent -- an especially painful stretch of poor Robertson Dean's somniferous narration -- whose name is "Doity Thoid" (get it? 33rd? hahaha!)).
What propelled me to the end was curiosity about how Straub might get himself out of the boring mess he was creating. The answer is: he doesn't. Ouch.
I imagine that if Dickens were alive he would be just as enthralled by Martin Jarvis as the Audible audience will be. Jarvis makes every character come alive and brings out Dickens's genius as a storyteller, a judge of character, and a write of great flexibility and skill. Sheer pleasure from beginning to end.
Kudos to Patrick Fraley, whose pitch is perfect with respect to Twain. There's no artifice in his performance: you forget that he's reading and feel as though the characters have come alive in your head. Fraley handles Twain's sublime way with words with aplumb. Would that all audiobook readers had his talent.
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