cover image Turbulence


Chico Buarque. Pantheon Books, $19 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-679-41264-9

Heavy on angst and ennui, this bleak, semisurreal first novel elliptically evokes the moral malaise of a Brazil rife with class tensions and ready to explode. The nameless narrator, a dropout who lives on handouts from his chic, wealthy sister, steals her jewels, acquires a suitcase full of marijuana and gets mixed up with thieves and squatters on his family's ramshackle farm, now overrun by a shantytown gang. A bigger robbery, rape and murder ensue as events spin out of his control. Buarque, a Brazilian singer-songwriter, sprinkles his dark parable with jarring images of societal breakdown--a dead man sitting on a bus amid indifferent passengers, a well-dressed stranger carrying an artificial leg--but neither characters nor plot are absorbing enough to sustain the reader's interest. The protagonist's sister, disdainful ex-wife and distant mother are generic figures, nondescript furniture in a somnambulistic mindscape; the narrative constantly gets sidetracked in imagined future scenarios. Bush's smooth translation faithfully conveys the novel's volatile, hothouse atmosphere. ( Feb. )