Woes of the True Policeman
By: Robert Bolaño
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
November 13, 2012
Woes of the True Policeman, Robert Bolaño’s last and unfinished novel, is equal parts stunning and frustrating. We learn from an editorial note written by Carolina Lopez – Bolaño’s widow – that this “is a novel whose parts are at different stages of completion.” Bolaño worked on Woes from the '80s until his death in 2003, and the manuscript came in many forms – found in files on his computer and worktable. This serves to truly elucidate as well as excuse the novel’s shortcomings.
Woes’ main character, Oscar Amalfitano, is a university professor entrenched in scandal, whom we first meet in Barcelona and follow to Santa Teresa, Mexico. For the most part, we are able to grasp Amalfitano through the author’s brilliant use of epistolary sections and short, full-bodied exposition. But this focus comes and goes as Bolaño introduces many other compelling characters, all of whom seem destined for more than the unfinished novel can produce. And while those familiar with Bolano know never to be too comfortable (even in his completed work he is liable to outright abandon plots and characters) this novel lacks the intentionality of those completed before, and the reader is left wondering what might’ve been.
-- Nicholas Miriello
The Round House
At its core, Louise Erdrich’s The Round House is a story about growing up. The novel’s narrator Joe retrospectively recounts his thirteenth summer, chronicling his passage from the naivete of youth to the shock of adulthood on an Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota, which has made frequent appearances in Erdrich’s previous works. If the bildungsroman structure of Erdrich’s fourteenth novel is predictable, the events which launch Joe with dizzying speed out of childhood lend a dark, unfamiliar sheen to his coming of age. Joe and his family suffer from a violent, personal attack that they are helpless to mitigate or avenge and, through this lens, Joe discovers the world as a place rife with slippery crime and judicial impotence. The defining moments of his young life -- discoveries of lust, love and the outer reaches of friendship -- are sullied by shame and an overwhelming, unforgiving sorrow.
Without falling victim to sentimental prose, Erdrich paints a compelling, devastating picture of life lived outside the confines of an effective legal system. More artful than traditional muckraking novels, The Round House deftly explores the very tangible implications of injustices propelled by boundaries blurred.
-- Danielle Wiener-Bronner
The Heart Broke In
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
October 2, 2012
An ambitious moral epic, The Heart Broke In repeatedly subjects its characters to ethical tests, but the result is far from pedagogical. Ritchie Shepherd, a former pop star and the producer of a teen singing competition reality show, is desperately trying to keep his brief affair with an underage girl under wraps. Ritchie’s sister Bec, a scientist, has thrown herself into the quest for an effective malaria vaccine. Their tenuously peaceful lives are shaken when Ritchie’s hidden transgressions and Bec’s naivete entangle them both in a bizarre revenge plot.
Meek’s skill at inhabiting his characters makes for an intimate, gripping read; in particular, Ritchie’s almost Humbert Humbert-esque moral manipulations both engross and repel, laying bare the brand of self-righteousness often wielded defensively by the most corrupt. Most impressively, Meek’s novel manages to seem of-the-moment rather than gimmicky in exploring the ethical dilemmas of our modern landscape. While the central plot device, an Internet gossip site created to mete out shame to wrongdoers, seems almost too baroque to be quite believable, it ultimately serves to catalyze and examine the most timeless downfalls in our society: infidelity, betrayal of family and public disgrace.
This story originally appeared in Huffington, in the iTunes App store.