MALCOLM SILVERMAN – San Diego State University
The author, born in Rio in 1955, has, to date, published six pieces of fiction: Torpalium (1977), Sabe quem dançou? (1978), A Oeste de nada (1981), and As forças desarmadas (1983), all short-story collections, and the novels Artérias e becos (1978) e Bárbara (1979). All tend to gravitate around the conventional gamut of post-1964 shortcomings and how it impinges tragi(comi)cally on numerous segments of a brutalized society, from the ex-capital’s trendy youth to the decimated Indian. Monteiro Martins’s style, however, marked early on by an emphasis on stark realism and mordant satire, is soon embellished with the poetic prose that is now a hallmark of his fiction.
The eleven short stories of Muamba, though not deviating altogether from these familar tenets, tend to display a more intimist, at times seemingly autobiographical bent, often projected through extensive surrealist interludes. Several of these stories-within-a-story revolve around a sudden visitation to the narrator-protagonist’s abode, where the host then proceeds to hallucinate, dream, and/or actually effect a varying mixture of catharsis, exorcism, and self-understanding. “Muamba”, for instance, progresses through lush nativeness, nightmarish castration, and a de facto time-machine voyage back to family roots, all overseen by an enigmatic stranger. “ O condor carrega como presa uma preguiça” uses a Pirandelloan character whose parody of folkloric fable reflects as much the Good (beauty) versus Evil (ugliness) motif as it does the city-countryside axis. In “Displasia de Deus” it is death personified which serves as catalyst, ironically sparking both memories of past romance and the protagonist’s renewed joie de vivre. “A face do companheiro” pits the “shadowy” title entity against the protagonist’s concern over Man versus Machine. Finally, in “O tiro” erotic fantasy and (imagined) infanticide lead to spiritual rebirth in spite of outside urban insolvency.
Another pair os Muamba narratives, concerning the marriage bond, are also introspective but relatively void of the far-reaching philosophical questions vented elsewhere. For example, the worst fears of a socially insecure and professionally unsuccessful husband seem to materialize, in the curiously titled “O barco vermelho”, when his wife chooses her protective dog over him. And in “Babá” a retired husband and staid burgeois becomes too dependent on the sexual favors of the couple’s black ex maid, giving way to a novel happy ending – for contemporary fiction: renewed appreciation on his wife’s carnal knowledge!
Brushes with the unexpected (absurd?), whether supernatural or not, are decidedly less vertical in other tales. “A coleção” and “As máquinas de Serafim” both examine facets of Orwellian madness: genocide and war – the former through an “innocuous” collector who becomes jailor and executioner to his Lilliputian humanoids, only to find himself eventually at the receiving end; the latter through the demeaning reality of a handicapped ex-soldier, lulled by unconscious analogies to the gory robotic past which at least explained his reason for being. Meanwhile, “Carne-seca, ritual e perfidia” traces the slow death in the desert of the urbane if deshumanized title character, content, in the end, to find himself expiring amid ecological balance. In “Vernissage” a painter lost in the hinterland suddenly comes across an exhibition of his falsified work and manages to adapt to the new reality.
All the narratives share a plethora of complementary qualities: characterization through counterpoint, temporal succintness and spatial austerity à grega, little dialogue, much (interior) monologue, caustic humour, pungent allusions, hyperbole, ingenious (extended) metaphors, regular foreshadowing, ironic or even paradoxical denouements, and an increasing preoccupation with universal rather than essentially parochial concerns – a developing tendency for the author and one perhaps signaling a break with hitherto pervasive, determinist elements as well. The composite makes Muamba a notable contribution both to Brazilian literature of the eighties as well to the fictionist’s discerning bibliography.