The story takes place in 1975 in Acapulco. B and his father have driven from Mexico City for a short vacation. B is interested in reading his book of Surrealist poetry and his father is interested in getting laid. Early in the story we realize that there is some sort of a rift or problem that is possibly going to be addressed. "...as if steeling himself for a fight." However, the story ends with B deciding, "This is the last time we're traveling together," and "And then the fight begins."
They drive a 1970 Ford Mustang, stopping once for some iguana at a roadside cafe. They finally find a hotel that is acceptable to the father. We learn that B and his father are from Chile and that B had returned once and ran into some trouble during the coup. I believe that is autobiographical. There is drinking, whoring, gambling, swimming, eating, but most of it takes place with one or the other of the men. They each watch or see the other from afar but do not interact or if they are together, they don't speak much. Several times we witness the son or the father looking or gazing at the other, usually unseen and bewildered. "When he puts them back on he notices his father watching him from the kitchen." Another time, "...although when B notices him, his father steps back, recoiling as if bitten by a snake, lifts his hand in a shy wave, and disappears behind the curtains."
The mood between the father and son is heavy with an underlying tension. It feels to me as though B needs to admit to his father that he is gay, "They start talking ... About women. Subjects that don't interest B, or at least not at the moment," or perhaps he needs to tell him more of what happened in Santiago. "I almost got killed." and "There are things you can tell people and things you just can't, thinks B disconsolately. From this moment on he knows the disaster is approaching." Although the two men are on a trip together, there are few sentences spoken between them and they are mostly superficial, "The café serves iguana. Shall we try it?" At the same time, the tension is not always overt but it's always present. "For a moment B and his father stand there, without speaking."
Throughout the story, B thinks about the Surrealist poet he's reading, Gui Rosey, and his disappearance during World War II while waiting to obtain a visa to the United States. With the sustained interest in this particular poet and what B decides must have been a suicide, he fears the same will happen to him, death or loss of sense of self?
Bolaño layers and weaves the themes of a father/son relationship, a trip for vacation, military coup, World War II, Surrealist poets, death, suicide all in an extremely realistic fashion. It's a wonderful story and worthy of many readings.
"Last Evenings on Earth" was published posthumously by The New Yorker in the Dec. 26, 2005-Jan. 2, 2006 issue. My copy, Last Evenings on Earth, is the 2006 translated by Chris Andrews version published by New Directions Books.