Bufo and Spallanzani

Rubem Fonseca, Author Dutton Books $18.95 (249p) ISBN 978-0-525-24872-9
The lowly toad ( Bufo marinus , in the Latin) is the leitmotif loosely holding together this second work by Brazilian writer Fonseca ( High Art ) to be translated into English. If hodgepodge were a literary genre, it might best describe the alternately amusing, stomach-turning, erudite adventure, laced with literary asides, entertaining tidbits and barely relevant anecdotes. The plot incorporates a mystery, yet suspense isn't its strongest suit. Narrator Gustavo Flavio is a popular Brazilian author who becomes a suspect in the murder of a beautiful socialite who was his lover. But the plot digresses rather than develops as Gustavo recounts episodes from the past, including a scam performed with a toad and a stint in an insane asylum. Cut back to the present, when Flavio decides to get out of town. More toads and another murder enter the picture. Meanwhile, readers finally understand references to a character named Spallanzani: he is the hero of a book Flavio is writing, and in fact an 18th-century biologist whose brief appearance here occurs as he's burning the leg off a copulating toad. Fonseca's voice is rich with irony, subtle humor and intelligence--there is ample potential for his next concoction to be a piece de resistance. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 08/01/1990
Release date: 08/01/1990
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