If you haven’t heard of Roberto Bolano, you will soon. The Chilean author, who died of liver failure in 2003, was the subject of a major panel discussion at last week’s PEN festival. His last two novels,”2666″ and “Los Detectives Salvages,” have been acquired by Farrar, Straus & Giroux after winning numerous literary prizes in Latin America. New Directions Publishing, which first brought Bolano to the United States, has seven more titles forthcoming and three already published. The most recent title, the story collection “Last Evenings on Earth” (219 pages, $23.95), gives English-language readers their first look at Bolano’s interesting late work. Bolano is darker than his Latin American predecessors. He rejects magical realism. His stories are dreamlike, but they are closer to the sinister mysteries of Europeans Umberto Eco or Javier Marias than to the colorful utopias of Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Felisberto Hernandez. And, unlike Garcia Marquez, who considers the Colombian village of his birth to be the fount of his creativity, or Mario Vargas Llosa, who ran for president of Peru, Bolano avoids ponderous questions of nationality. He left Chile in 1973, after Pinochet’s coup, but he does not write sentimentally or even pointedly about his homeland. His characters register the feeling of rootlessness and exile in the pith of their consciousness, more than in any politicized scene or interaction. Additionally, Bolano pokes fun at writers who have puffed themselves up as voices of moral indignation. In one story here, “A Literary Adventure,” a writer satirizes a more successful colleague and longs to “plant his fist in A’s increasingly prudish face, oozing selfassurance and righteous anger, as if he thought he were the reincarnation of Unamuno or something.” Most of Bolano’s stories are about writers, and this concern sometimes grows to an obsession with petty literary politics. But his obsession actually works as an anti-obsession, exorcising Latin American literary circles of their self-seriousness. He writes about bad poets who “generally suffer like laboratory animals, especially during their protracted youth,” grasping the seriousness and ridiculousness of some writers in one stroke. Bolano is not a satirist, however. He reserves an important respect for serious, sensitive literary affairs.”We never stop reading, although every book comes to an end,” he writes, “just as we never stop living, although death is certain.” Literature is a way of breathing in Bolano’s world – in a world, to borrow one character’s phrase, “where vast geographical spaces could suddenly shrink to the dimensions of a coffin.” As his characters ping-pong from Chile to Spain to Mexico to Germany, chasing loves and peculiar hunches, they seemingly inhabit a coffin-size space in which the scene shifts as rapidly as in a nightmare. In one story, the narrator confesses that what follows is “more an itinerary than a story or a plot,” and elsewhere a narrator notes, offhand, that people in Mexico City dress “in clothes that seem to belong to some endless dream.” Likewise, Bolano’s pulpy narration is both meandering and succinct. It unfolds with suspenseful, after-the-fact pronouncements: “But by then I was already chilled through” … “Suddenly I realized that we were at peace” … “I kept thinking about the old Indian woman” … “the image of the couple against the background of that awful party has a mysterious purchase on his memory.” It is entirely appropriate that most of the stories collected here end with a death or a simple absence. Not only do these endings recall the “disappearances” under Pinochet, they underscore Bolano’s style. Titles like “Last Evenings on Earth” and the apocalyptic “2666” signpost the subtle combination of fatalism and splash that animates Bolano’s prose. In one story, the narrator is dragged to a district of “obsolete buildings” and “no streetlights,” where he is to read the works of a supposed boy genius. He dreads the event, predicting it to be a gross experience of schadenfreude. But when the narrator gets to the end of the boy’s first, four-page story, he notes, without preliminaries, “I felt as if I had read a novel.” The same is true of Bolano’s own stories. The world seems to be ending, albeit on an incredibly rich note. The title story slowly builds up to a bleary, high-stakes bar fight, only to end with the sentence, “And then the fight begins.” If this collection is any indication, Bolano’s late work will ensnare more and more American readers. Our own tradition of noir is rendered not magical, but refreshingly alien – and politically relevant, after Bolano’s fashion. Moreover, reading this collection burnishes the idea of reading, as the subject of these stories and as the act. It’s an easy volume to fetishize, and whets the reader’s appetite for all 1,125 soon-to-be-translated pages of “2666.”