The Savage Detectives (A Review)
Rudy Martinez, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, January 2019. This is the third book I’ve read by him. The first was a novella about a priest who taught Pinochet the ins and outs of Marxism and hid behind criticism and poetry—it reminded me of The Death of Ivan Ilyich, these pathetic old men, repenting. Then, I read a fake anthology of fascist writers in Latin America. The only Colombians in the story die defending Berlin in 1945. How comical—everyone knows of our martyr complex. It was at that moment that I knew, this man is a genius. Roberto Bolaño is the only genius I’ve ever known of who enjoyed chamomile tea. I wasn’t sure what to think when I finished this book—I never know what to think when I finish a book. Am I supposed to cry? That may have happened once, with Kerouac, but I was really high back then, so the experience wasn’t “authentic,” so to speak. Maybe it was authentic then, but not for the “me” of now. A few months later, I was homeless in California, crying, not necessarily due to sadness, but I was crying, and I know that specific fate is coming for me again, but who cares? I guess the closest I really got to crying when finishing a book was Tarkovsky’s Solaris. What? Yes, I know it’s a film. But it’s packed with more ideas, more emotion, beauty, futility, than most novels you’ve ever read. Never discount a director who uses his camera as a pen. My mother and I sat in silence, in our living room, at the end of Solaris. There wasn’t anything I wanted to say, really, I just hoped she had gotten something out of the film, and I hadn’t just forced her to sit there with me for nearly three hours for naught. What I did, at the end of this book, the longest book I’ve read to date, 647 pages, and thank goodness that my initiation into the 600+ page club was through the words of a stringy-haired chain-smoking Chilean poet, and not one of those European or North American cats, lord forbid it be one of those repressed North American writers, colonizers of words, what I did was write “anything” at the bottom of the last page. The book ends with a question asked in mid-February 1976, and after exploring the streets of Mexico D.F., Israel, Nicaragua, Vienna, Barcelona, Paris, and Liberia (let’s stretch the definition of “street” in Liberia’s case), just to name a few places, it’s the most important question you’ll ever be asked—and I’m satisfied with my answer. It’s like a Rorschach test, you know? I guess that’s what I think now, is that I’m satisfied with how I’ve answered things the last eight or nine years. And I hope Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima were satisfied with how they answered things, too. Belano seemed to be in the grips of serenity, when he decided to join the soldiers and that madman famous photographer in Liberia. I shouldn’t say too much, you should see for yourself. It’ll take an effort to get there, but don’t worry. There are dozens of characters and locales spread across several decades, and, yeah, you’ll lose track of who’s who, and who’s been published where, and who’s slept with who, but patterns rise out of the book like cigarette smoke, so I hope you don’t mind cigarette smoke filling up your room, or your café, or your bar, or wherever it is that you read this book, this most important of books, with its most important of questions. Everything that begins as comedy ends in a question. Or, at least it should, shouldn’t it?