A collection of 5 short stories and two essays - one of the many Bolaño works to appear after the author’s death.
First, there’s Jim, the shortest of the five, about a Vietnam veteran watching a fire eater on the streets of Mexico City. He was something of a poet and had bummed his way around Central America for a time. Now finding himself in Mexico, furthering his thirst for experience, he is captivated by this indigenous fire eater and their interaction slowly becomes something ominous as Jim faces his own torment and demons; The Insufferable Gaucho concerns itself with a middle class Buenos Aires lawyer who decides to flee the city after economic collapse and live a more austere life in the Argentine Pampas, ingratiating himself with the local gauchos; Police Rat, in which the main character is actually a rat, tries to solve horrific crimes in the sewers of a Mexican city but discovering that trying to actually solve the crimes only leads to trouble within the peace of the community; Alvaro Rousselot’s Journey, about a novelist in pursuit of a French filmmaker who makes films based off Alvaro’s books without crediting him or acknowledging him in any way. The pursuit eventually allows Alvaro to discover more about himself than anything else; and Two Catholic Tales - part one about a religious boy in Spain who has a spiritual experience after witnessing a wandering monk during a snowy night. Part two, the story of who the monk actually is and he is far from who the religious boy would ever suspect.
The two essays that follow are very interesting reads. Literature + Ilness = Illness concerns itself with Bolaño’s life threatening illness as well as ruminations on the poetry of Baudelaire and Mallarmé; and The Myth of Cthulhu which discusses the state of Latin American literature plus the writings of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Julio Cortazar and Mario Vargas Llosa. For me, Two Catholic Tales is the strongest piece in the collection and worth the purchase for this story alone. Over all, a worthy volume of the brilliant writer’s short works.