The Return

The latest Bolao translation balances percolating darkness with bubbling luminosity.

Although the 13 stories that make up Roberto Bolaño’s newly translated collection percolate with brooding darkness, they also bubble with a surprising luminosity. Even the most grotesque scenarios (in the title story, a ghost watches as his corpse is secretly delivered to France’s top fashion designer, a closet necrophiliac) are somehow made elegant, sensible and even humorous under their creator’s influence. Devotees will already be familiar with the Chilean maestro’s themes of murder and death, sex and bleak prospects—mobsters and prostitutes populate his pages equally—and will recognize his self-referential impulses: Characters from other works, including his masterpiece 2666, are briefly name-checked, and Bolao even writes himself into several stories. While his Borges-like obsession with detective fiction and his Cortzar-esque tendency toward elliptical, surrealistic narratives are readily apparent, Bolao transcends them with these stories, each richer and more resonant than the last.

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By Roberto Bolao (New Directions, $23.95.)