Monday, 3 February 2014

The Part About Fate

Oscar Fate, alias Quincy Williams, dominates the third part of Roberto Bolaño’s 2666. He’s an Afro-American journalist working for a Harlem-based magazine geared at black people. Fate covers social and political matters, but following the death of a friend, and sports writer for the magazine, he’s assigned to cover a boxing match in Santa Teresa, Mexico. There he learns from a journalist called Chucho Flores about the mass murders of women. Chucho is also dating Rosa Amalfitano. Fate also meets a Mexican journalist, Guadalupe Roncal, who’s investigating the murders. The game of mirrors continues: like Fate, Guadalupe is also replacing a colleague, but in her case he was murdered, perhaps because he discovered something about the crimes.

“The Part About Fate” is when the female murders start coming to the fore. The earliest reference was on page 43 of my edition:

Around this time, Morini was the first of the four to read an article about the killings in Sonora, which appeared in Il Manifesto and was written by an Italian reporter who had gone to Mexico to cover the Zapatista guerrillas. The news was horrible, he thought. In Italy there were serial killers, too, but they hardly ever killed more than ten people, whereas in Sonora the dead numbered well over one hundred.

The crimes continued to be commented here and there, but always remained in the background of the characters’ actions. For the first time we meet a character, Guadalupe, who is really interested in the crimes. She in turn sucks him into them, and he even considers writing an article about them:

As they were driving to the Sonora Resort, where he planned to check his e-mail, it occurred to Fate that it would be much more interesting to write a story about the women who were being killed than about the Pickett-Fernandéz fight. That was what he wrote to his editor.

His editor replies without interest. Outside or inside Mexico, the interest in the dead woman isn’t very big. Major themes of the novel – machismo, sexism, misogyny – start being developed in this part, although, now that I think about it, they were present all along since the beginning. This sexism, of which the murders may be its extreme consequence, shows up in several ways throughout this part. First of all there’s Guadalupe’s story of how she became involved in the investigation:

   “As I said already, I’m a reporter,” said Guadalupe Roncal. “I work for one of the big Mexico City newspapers. And I’m staying at this hotel out of fear.”
   “Fear of what?” asked Fate.
   “Fear of everything. When you work on something that involves the killings of women in Santa Teresa, you end up scared of everything. Scared you’ll be beaten up. Scared of being kidnapped. Scared of torture. Of course, the fear lessens with experience. But I don’t have experience. No experience whatsoever. I’m cursed by a lack of experience. You might even say I’m undercover, as an undercover reporter, if there is such a thing. I know everything about the killings. But I’m not really an expert on the subject. What I mean is, until a week ago this wasn’t my subject. I wasn’t up on it. I hadn’t written anything about it, and suddenly, out of the blue, the file landed on my desk and I was in charge of the investigation. Do you want to know why?”
   Fate nodded.
   “Because I’m a woman and women can’t turn down assignments. Of course, I already knew what had happened to my predecessor. Everybody in the paper knew it. The case got a lot of attention. You might even have heard about it.” Fate shook his head. “He was killed, of course. He got in too deep and they killed him. Not here, in Santa Teresa, but in Mexico City. The police said it was a robbery that went wrong. You want to know how it happened? He got in a taxi. The taxi drove off. Then it stopped at a corner and two strangers got in. For a while they drove around to different cash machines, maxing out my predecessor’s credit card, then they headed somewhere on the edge of the city and stabbed him. He wasn’t the first reporter to be killed for what he wrote. Going through his papers I found information on two others. A woman, a radio correspondent, who was kidnapped in Mexico City, and a Chicano who worked for an Arizona paper called La Raza, who disappeared. The two of them were investigating the killings of women in Santa Teresa. I’d met the radio correspondent at journalism school. We were never friends. We might have exchanged a few words at most. But I think I’d met her. Before they killed her they raped her and tortured her.”

Rosa can’t refuse work, she’s bossed around, and her safety isn’t taken into consideration even though it’s known her predecessor was killed. She’s disposable to the newspaper.

Rosa Amalfitano, meanwhile, spiralling out of control on a drug-related relationship with Chucho Flores. Her father doesn’t like him, and perhaps with good motives. The creepy thing about Chucho is how normal he is, even though there’s a dark vein in him. The following is an incident that happens after Rosa gets a lift from a classmate:

   Suddenly someone she hadn't heart approach her said: you whore. The voice startled her and she looked up, thinking it was a bad joke or that she'd been mistaken for someone else. Standing there was Chucho Flores. Flustered, all she could do was tell him to sit down, but Chucho Flores, his lips barely moving, told her to get up and follow him. She asked him where he planned to go. Home, said Chucho Flores. He was sweating and his face was flushed. Rosa told him she wasn't going anywhere. Then Chucho Flores asked her who the boy was who had kissed her.
   “A classmate,” said Rosa, and she noticed that Chucho Flores's hands were shaking.
   “You whore,” he said again. 
   And then he began to mutter something that Rosa couldn't understand at first, but after a moment she realized he was repeating the same words over and over again: you whore, uttered with teeth clenched, as if saying it cost him a huge effort.
   “Let’s go,” shouted Chucho Flores.
   “I’m not going anywhere with you,” said Rosa, and she looked around to see whether anyone had noticed the scene they were making. But no one was looking at them and she felt better.

This is bizarre: you’d think she’d feel worried about no one paying attention to a violent man insulting a woman in public. And why does she feel better? Shouldn’t she feel alarmed? But then again this also says something about the psychology of the citizens of Santa Teresa, and how violence towards woman is rendered invisible in the quotidian, which in turn leads to the indifference the mass murders provoke. Chucho’s intimidating behaviour doesn’t register.

Chucho is also a classy guy who brings his girlfriend to parties where they watch porn movies. After the boxing match, Fate is invited by Chucho to go with him to a seedy post-boxing match orgy at a friend’s house. This friend, Charlie Cruz, is reputed to have a porn movie shot by cult director Robert Rodriguez:

The movie, according to Charlie Cruz, was half an hour long at most. An old woman with a heavily made-up face looked into the camera. After a while she began to whisper incomprehensible words and weep. She looked like a whore who’d retired and, Fate thought at times, was facing death. Then a thin, dark-skinned young woman with big breasts took off her clothes while seated on a bed. Out of the darkness came three men who first whispered in her ear and then fucked her. At first the woman resisted. She looked straight at the camera and said something in Spanish that Fate didn’t understand. Then she faked an orgasm and started to scream. After that, the men, who until that moment had been taking turns, joined in all together, the first penetrating her vagine, the second her anus, and the third sticking his cock in her mouth.

For reasons that are not clear, Fate gets up and leaves with Rosa, whom he finds snorting coke, but not before punching the lights out of a couple of lowlifes. Rosa’s father, Amalfitano, asks him to take her out of Mexico, possibly fearing for her well-being in Santa Teresa. Chucho and Charlie are not related to the mass murders, but violence towards women is endemic there, and there were good chances she’d end up on a slab one way or another. There’s more than one way of women dying. The motives don’t matter in this novel, just the fact it’s reached epidemic proportions.

Read for Caravana de Recuerdos' Readalong.


  1. I think that the casual, unnoticed aspect concerning the violence against women, as you point out, is indeed well presented here. Of course this is not a phenomenon restricted to Santa Teresa. It is characteristic in various times, places and social situations that appear in the real world.

    1. Brian, certainly. But Bolaño is to be commended for using the real murders in Mexico as the backdrop in order to maximize the theme of misogyny. Writers tend to favour ancient history and crimes, but Bolaño walks bravely into contemporary crimes.

  2. It's so true, what you pointed out, that the violence done to Rosa in front of everyone was ignored...thus making violence to women seem almost invisible. What a "perfect" segue into the violence I hear is ahead.

    1. Bellezza, thanks. It was in fact thanks to your post about misogyny that I noticed the pervasiveness of violence against women, in all its forms, before the famous fourth part. The slow build up is intricately prepared by Bolaño.

  3. Miguel - I have to echo here one of your own comments elsewhere, that the benefit of a group read is getting to see what others pick up that one misses oneself. I especially appreciate your focus on Guadalupe Roncal and Rosa Amalfitano here, and on the ways The Part About Fate begins to uncover the astonishing multiplicity of ways that misogyny operates. The last couple of lines of your post are quite powerful.

    1. Thanks, but like I wrote above, it was really Bellezza that made me see it.