The Skating Rink by Robert Bolaño
I’m reading Robert Bolaño’s The Skating Rink and I find myself looking for characters from The Savage Detectives or 2666.I even skimmed the table of contents and epilogue of Nazi Literature in the Americas before realizing I was on the wrong track: Nazi Literature in the Americas is a parody of far-right politics, and the characters in The Skating Rink are, on the surface, socialists. Bolaño wouldn’t have included Gaspar Heredia, The Skating Rink’s sometime poet (and a stand-in for Bolaño himself), in his fictional list of right-wing hacks.
The Skating Rink is more accessible (and a lot shorter) than The Savage Detectives or 2666. It features a small cast of characters and a streamlined narrative, and it’s set in one location–in this case, a town called Z, near the Costa Brava and Barcelona. But anyone familiar with The Savage Detectives and 2666 will recognize The Skating Rink’s themes of jealousy and (according to the jacket flap) murder. In short order: Enric Rosquelles, an insecure civil servant, is in love with Nuria, a beautiful figure skater. He’s so in love with her that he builds a private skating rink for her in the hope that she’ll overlook his weight and height and return his feelings. No dice: their relationship is purely platonic, and while I’m not led to believe that Nuria is a calculating bitch–she never tells her side of the story–I wonder how she can be so blind to Enric’s feelings. Everyone else sees it, including Remo Morán, the businessman currently sleeping with her. (Here there are echoes of "The Part About the Critics," from 2666.) And Enric, of course, isn’t happy about this development: after finding out about their affair, Remo gloats to himself and writes, "… he was gripping the bar with both hands, his eyes fixed on the floor, pale and shaken, as if he’d been kicked by a donkey."
Like Bolaño’s other works, The Skating Rink is laced with black and perverse humor. The men mistake stalking and obsession for romantic love. They take pleasure in each other’s suffering and aren’t shy about telling their ugliest secrets and desires. Told in long paragraphs, with almost no dialogue, The Skating Rink reads like three men giving a confession–the narration is claustrophobic, unreliable, and jarring. It’s certainly different from his more well-known books, but this is definitely a Bolaño novel, voice and all.