When the lights of Brazil’s twelve World Cup Football stadiums are turned off, the city of Rio will settle back down into its usual routine. But behind the facade of Copacabana partying, samba rhythm and everything else that you normally associate with Rio, there is a sinister and surreal undercurrent, which Comma Press’ new collection of short stories reveals. At the end of the Rio-Niterói bridge Christ the Redeemer opens his arms wide to the Brazilian metropolis, but The Book of Rio, out this month, makes Rio into a whore of a city. You wonder if the metropolis can ever be redeemed.
All ten of the stories follow the Brazilian current of Modernist writing. Profoundly nihilistic, the characters wander in and out of the conflicts of their lives, emerging neither wiser nor greater nor safer. The souls of Rio’s inhabitants are cheap, and sex is the main tender. A young boy roams the streets as a prostitute, so he can feed hot dogs to his dying father on the filthy sofa of their squat. He wants help but cannot ask for it, and anyway, help doesn’t come. The whole thing is very disturbing. But then, with titles like ‘The Woman who slept with a Horse’, it is clear that we are in for a lively ride. And so we are; in anticipation of the rant of a screwed-up drag queen in the hands of a corrupt cop (apparently the police of Rio are as bad as the criminals), the reader should fasten his seatbelt.
Still, the most shocking story of the collection has to be ‘The Biggest Bridge in the World’ by Domingos Pellegrini. The Rio-Niterói bridge spans the Guanabara Bay, and the story of its construction is likely to deter you from crossing it. Transported to the site like lambs to the slaughter, the workers labour endlessly with a gun to their heads. The men were ‘like a bunch of ghosts’, their eyes ‘bugged out’ from exhaustion. Leaving the site was not an option, ‘the guy with the .38 thought it would be better for us to show our good faith by going straight back to work, so I threw a bucket of water on my head and went back’. Wet electricians, adds Pellegrini, are ‘asking for trouble’. But what is one more accident when there are deadlines to be met? So ‘they rolled the dead man up in a blanket and let’s see some hustle, we only have a week left, men’.
Any Cop?: makes so-called seedy Brighton look like something out of a Jane Austen novel.