People are always recommending things with the equation of if you liked this, then you will like that. Or, before you see ____, make sure you read _____. And while these recommendations can be tiring or obnoxious, there are times when they can be warranted. Or, at least, it can be good to know what influenced and inspired the things you like, because maybe you will like those original inspiring and influencing works as well.
While True Detective has become known for a host of literary references, in particular The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers, the novel that I think all True Detective fans should read is Roberto Bolano’s 2666. I will admit that 2666 is one of my top five favorite novels, and True Detective is one of my top five favorite television shows. But the similarities are not limited to the fact that I really like both of them, and my reason for recommending it goes deeper.
To begin with: both are about the murder of countless women. In 2666, these women appear murdered in the desert or the alleys, often unidentified, their killers uncaught and their stories unknown. In True Detective, they appear in the bayou or in fields or under trees, but their circumstances are otherwise similar.
Both stories spiral outward from fictional cities, across barren landscapes. In True Detective, we have the mysterious labyrinthine Carcosa, in which the characters find themselves at the end. In 2666, we have the fictional city of Santa Teresa. In both stories, we have detectives who find themselves distracted by their romantic pursuits, chasing unknown antagonists, finding things deep and dark.
At the center of 2666, we have an enigmatic writer named Archimboldi. He appears and disappears and is hunted by academics who obsess over his work. He’s referred to as a giant; a man speaks of the giant who will save him, a prophetic hint that is echoed by the woman in True Detective who speaks of a different giant, whispering he’s gonna come for you. He’s worse than anything. Sometimes these two works blend into one in my memory. The suspects point fingers at one another in both, the protagonists drift from one spot to another, the plots appear and disappear, the story shifts and all narrators are unreliable.
And in both stories, as the path moves forward, we realize that we will not get the resolutions that we normally demand from our fiction. We will not get the tidy ending or happy conclusion. The mysteries will not be solved, the questions will remain open, because the story was never about the answers. Getting lost in 2666 parallels Rust’s journey through Carcosa.
I recommend 2666 to everyone I know, and I do the same with True Detective. I do not know if the next season of True Detective will have have any tangible similarities to Bolano’s work, but I do know that reading 2666 enriched my experience of the first season of True Detective, and I can only assume that we will see the same focus on characters with a detached interest in solving the mystery itself. In all these works, the plot avoids focusing on the mystery, but rather on the people who are trapped in it.
Of course, time might be a flat circle, but in this case it isn’t your ally: 2666 is a thousand pages long, and not an easy read. If you want to read it before June 21st, which is when the new season of True Detective begins, you need to start now.
Want more about True Detective? Try Why All the Bad News About True Detective is Actually Good News.