cover image Cowboy Graves: Three Novellas

Cowboy Graves: Three Novellas

Roberto Bolaño, trans. from the Spanish by Natasha Wimmer. Penguin Press, $24 (208p) ISBN 978-0-7352-2288-5

An appealing if inchoate episodic collection emerges from Bolaño’s archives (after The Spirit of Science Fiction). In the title novella, Arturo Belano emigrates from Chile to Mexico City at 15 in 1968 to live with his father. There, Arturo befriends a transient man nicknamed the Grub, whom Bolaño fans will remember from Last Evenings on Earth. After the 1973 coup, Arturo returns to Chile to fight on behalf of the leftists. In “French Comedy of Errors,” the book’s most linear story, a French Guianese teenager receives an unexpected call in a phone booth from a group of literally underground writers called the Clandestine Surrealist Group who are waiting to start a revolution. “Fatherland,” narrated by a 20-something Rigoberto Belano who differs only slightly from Arturo, transmutes from an account of Belano’s family and a love affair disrupted by the Chilean coup into fragmentary lectures on a sadistic poet and a mélange of recollected dreams, letters, and detective-style case files. While the loosely connected vignettes in each novella fail to fully cohere, they show a writer working to capture the fragility of identity and relationships in revolutionary settings. These drafts reveal Bolaño (1953–2003) perfecting the literary obsessions that became his emblems. (Feb.)