To some extent, Bolano's short stories, some of which are translated into English by Chris Andrews and collected in Last Evenings On Earth can seem rather modest and subdued. I suppose that is one of the dangers of writing not one but two epic novels. I have read and reread this collection, much in the same way I have savored work by other haunting authors we may reread. (For me, in my past, these have included Sherwood Anderson, J.D. Salinger, Paul Auster, and many more. After a phone conversation with one book friend, we established that I am a "book returner" in the sense of returning for multiple reads whereas he is always looking forward to something new.) But back to Bolano, I am convinced no one with a taste for the wandering life and melancholy can possibly be disappointed by passages like this:
What were you dreaming about? he asks her. The girl replies that she was dreaming about her mother who died not long ago. The dead are at peace, thinks B stretching out in bed. As if she had read his mind, the girl says that no one who has passed through this world is at peace. Not anymore, not ever, she says with total conviction. B feels like crying, but instead he falls asleep.
That glimmering crystal is neatly tucked into Bolano's "Vagabond in France and Belgium." In nearly every story in the collection, you will discover several such bits of chilling wisdom. (My favorites are "Vagabond...," "Mauricio ('The Eye') Silva," "Anne Moore's Life," and "Dentist.") His style is so smooth and understated, it is possible to read right past these gems, so remember to slow down and enjoy the journey. Safe passage.