“If you’re not with me tomorrow, that would be the worst.”
-Bonnie “Prince” Billy.
Roberto Bolano once remarked that everything he wrote was “a letter of love or of goodbye.” I read this in The Nation a day before taking on the Chilean scribe’s eight hundred and ninety-eight page posthumously published novel, 2666, which he wrote while dying of liver failure. As I closed the book for the final time almost a month later, a strange experience took over me. Instead of reflecting upon the book itself, his quote popped into my head and I knew I was not ready to say goodbye to a writer who died way too early.
I’m not sure I feel safe saying I let the book consume me, but I realized upon finishing it that something was missing from from my everyday routine. For almost two weeks I was unable to read any other work of fiction, and found it nearly necessary to ween myself off my Bolano dependency.
Unlike in the past, when I would simply take a bit of time to soak in what I had finished and go right to the next book, I found myself with no taste in my mouth to pick up another. Not so much due to the fact that 2666 is indeed a work deserving all the praise it has received, but because as far as I can tell, I had become attached to the novel during the long and arduous road I took while reading it.
The days that followed, nothing felt good. A pile of books lay on my desk waiting for review. In most cases, I can polish off a pretty fair amount of pages in a short period of time. In the case of 2666, though, I paid extremely close attention to every single word put into the print, looking for esoteric insights into the author’s mind in his final days, or maybe trying to find some meaning in the book’s numeric title.
I spent the hours I wasn’t reading throwing a baseball at the wall and listening to Scott Walker’s exquisite song “The Seventh Seal,” based on Ingmar Bergman film of the same name, on repeat. The opening lyric — “anybody seen a knight pass this way? I saw him playing chess with Death yesterday” — hit home with me.
For the next few days, my lack of interest continued, but I was at least able to enjoy other music, albeit just as solemn. I felt lost and a friend noted I seemed “vacant.”
Two days later, I sat in my analyst’s office (Normally I avoid making mention of my analyst as I feel it pegs me even deeper to that neurotic, New York Jewish stereotype. In this case, though, it’s appropriate) and made passing mention of the fact that upon completion of this book I felt almost like I had lost a friend, and that even though I am a constant reader, I had never experienced anything like this.
The Doctor clicked his pen and looked at me with a smile. “It almost sounds like you are suffering from separation anxiety,” he said with a chuckle that almost reminded me of Doctor Hibbard on The Simpsons. I didn’t find any comfort in his humor, or the fact that he was charging me sixty dollars an hour to laugh at my condition.
Everything was frustrating. I sat at a coffee shop, staring vacantly at the University students pouring over their books. “Little bastards,” I grumbled to myself. At twenty-eight, I was coveting their vitality. As my literary impotence and “separation anxiety” prospered. As I perused the internet, looking for temporary salvation, I came across an article about one of the most influential writers in my life. In two days it would be New Years Day, as well as J. D. Salinger’s birthday. The literary world’s most famous recluse would be turning ninety on the same day the calendar turned over.
The article mentioned the supposed publication of Salinger’s final published work, a letter from character Seymour Glass in the New Yorker in 1965, titled “Hapworth 16, 1924”. Ah, the Glass family and their influence on my generation’s popular culture (as well as any Wes Anderson film). I loved them like they were my own and for some reason, maybe because the story was published fifteen years before my conception, I had never read “Hapworth” before.
“No time like the present,” I said to myself and dove into the story I found thanks to the magic of the internet, which always helps when I don’t feel like “really reading.” Over twenty five thousand words later, I sat out of breath and relieved. It felt like a cross between post-coital and the final scene in Return of the Jedi where all the Jedi stared down lovingly at Luke, Leia and Han Solo.
I had rebounded. Thanks to Salinger, I was “back into the game”, and it felt good.
Finally, I was able to see clearly. I thought back on the weeks it took to read 2666. I though about what an incredible piece of work it was. And although I had read books of it’s size, or bigger, in the past, but something about this being the last book published by a writer I respect so much really set something off inside of me. Looking back on something a professor of mine once said, “my favorite writers are like my best friends”, I realized my analyst was right. I had lost somebody I was close to, and a brief fling with someone else helped me attain closure.
Thanks J.D., the money’s on the nightstand.