cover image Feast Days

Feast Days

Ian MacKenzie. Little, Brown, $26 (240p) ISBN 978-0-316-44016-5

No one could accuse the heroine of MacKenzie’s second novel (after City of Strangers) of leading an unexamined life, and the wit with which she conducts that examination elevates this brilliant work. Emma—her name evokes Flaubert’s restless housewife—is a “trailing spouse” accompanying her investment banker husband to São Paulo, “a city that reminded you of what Americans used to think the future would look like—gleaming and decrepit at once.” Possessing a degree in cultural anthropology and dead languages, she interrogates her position in this unfamiliar, stratified society: “There were aspects of the world that, because of my husband, I had the luxury of not paying attention to.” Emma gives English lessons, lunches with affluent wives, flirts with adultery, and muses on time as a “confusion of folds,” seeing Brazil, her marriage, and language as palimpsests bearing signs of the past, the present, and the future. Her observations are satirical, incisive, and often melancholy. As street protests calling for political change intensify, so too do Emma’s anxiousness and aimless desires, beset as she is by an “affliction of vagueness.” There is no cataclysm but rather a pervasive sense of unrest, both large and small scale, social and personal, conveyed in MacKenzie’s unruffled, discerning prose. With it, MacKenzie has captured one of the most memorable narrative voices in recent fiction. Agent: Anna Stein, ICM Partners. (Mar.)