A oeste de nada – MALCOLM SILVERMAN

MALCOLM SILVERMAN – San Diego State University

The author (born 1955) has already published, in the span of five years, two novels and as many short story collections. Even the title of his latest endeavor, A Oeste de Nada (To The West of Nothing) reflects, from the outset, an ominuos sense of stagnation and emptiness common to most of the collection’s thirteen pieces. Thesis and themes are often familiar even if plot lines are not. Youthful self-definition  can be complex and psychological in “O Santo Graal” or straight forward and physiological in “Caminhão” while filial bonds are demythologized amid gastronomic double entendres in “Culinária Paterna” and through a neo-medievalism in “Dominó”. Other assorted youth wallow in the bas-fonds of surf and drugs in “Xô Peru”, of off-hour prostitution in “A Tuna Recusada”, and of the bar scene in “A Princesinha do Cospe-Grosso” – a far cry from the innocent childhood escapism in “Zargo”, the accelerated life cycle in “Raça”, or the violent senior citizens’ revolt in the graphically titled “Os Presuntos” or “The Hams” (a conspiracy responsible for murdering the residents of an old age home and selling their cadavers is foiled.) Finally, there are the disparate adaptations of bygone indianismo: in “Uluri Kamaiurá”, a mother poetically casts her child adrift, enveloped in a victoria regia; a male is matter-of-factly sodomized and turned into a crazed pariah by white adventurers in “Manuelito”; and, in the title story, abuse of the Indian (and, by extention of the whole populace) is parabled in the confrontation between a reformist priest (good) and a police chief (evil).

            Embracing varied narrative techniques, the author projects Man’s shortcomings through a mixture of mordant sociopolitical satire, abundant tragedy and stark realism. It is a style which Vicente Ataíde, in his appendix to A Oeste de Nada, rightly labels “Do Grotesco e do Carnaval” (p.135). Figures are generally adolescent, middle class when urban , (near) marginals when rural; and, owing to the external structure imposed by the genre, they are limited in number and, usually, in their depth. (Exceptions appear in the title story and “O Santo Graal”). Male and female alike are victims, most often resigned, of a determinism of sorts. Indeed, even when they succeed in altering the status quo, they themselves remain unchanged – or worse. Atmosphere throughout runs parallel, generally confining and oppressive, while locale tends to isolate further the particular character (or pair os character-adversaries). Undoubtedly, many are the similarities with classical Greek tragedy.
Language, whether presented through dialogue or description, characterizes the personages as effectively as does their behavior. It encompasses the, at times, unrecognizable argot of Rio’s surfers, the lyrical extended metaphors of omniscient narrators, and the street-wise Portuguese of ordinary Brazilians, void of conventional punctuation and euphemistic niceties. At the same time, symbolism permeates all facets os A Oeste de Nada: themes, characters, even titles. The end product should prove to be one of the best Brazilian short story collections of the decade as well as Julio Cesar Monteiro Martins’ most ambitious undertaking to date.