The New Yorker Reader: “Clara,” by Roberto Bolaño

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07/31/2008 2:30 PM |

Kelly, can you handle this?

As I think I’ve used this space to proclaim a few times previous, all first-person stories are about their narrators, even if they’re named after the person the narrator is ostensibly talking about.

This, of course, bears that out, with the narrator’s recollection of his youthful love for – and alternately haunting and banal adult friendship with — the titular Clara betraying his cooled lust for life, disappointment and existential desperation.

But Bolaño, ever so knowing about literary tradition, makes the story into more of a parody of the nostalgic, romantic remembrance of doomed loves past: the narrator is frequently oblivious to the tragic core of Clara’s character, or else she’s really that unexceptional. Or, likely, both. He, in that writing-too-fast-to-cohere-everything-neatly way of his, leaves gnawing ellipses in otherwise fairly schematic stories. There’s the instinctual, unresolved images throughout, and that open-ended ending — an ending but not a conclusion. This is a phantom limb of a short story.