cover image Act of the Damned

Act of the Damned

Antonio Lobo Antunes. Grove Press, $22 (246pp) ISBN 978-0-8021-1575-1

Awarded the Portuguese Writers' Association Grand Prize for Fiction, this novel allows American readers another glimpse at Antunes's difficult, malicious brilliance. Set in Portugal in the mid-1970s, it concerns a bourgeois family trying to settle the estate of its dying patriarch, Diogo, and escape the country before what they believe will be a dangerous socialist takeover. But it is around Rodrigo, Diogo's voraciously greedy son-in-law, that the story revolves, as he schemes to secure what money remains after Diogo's lifetime of crooked investments. Other contenders for the fortune are Diogo's three children: Leonor, wife of Rodrigo, bitter after his years of philandering; simple-minded Goncalo, obsessed with his model trains and married to the nameless mother of Francisco and beautiful Ana; and a severely retarded woman whose daughter (by Rodrigo) is referred to as ``the cousin.'' Each character narrates a facet of the story, which itself just barely emerges from Antunes's (Elephant Memory) dazzlingly tangential style. Of the 10 perspectives given voice, that of Nunu, Ana's caustic husband, comprises the first third of the book; voices outside the clan include a doctor and a notary, both of whom are horrified at the family's corruption, which takes its most disturbing form in the compulsive incest perpetrated by Rodrigo. Set over five days, the narrative modulates between the characters' memories, fantasies and realities in darkly funny imagistic riffs. This tale of familial sin and disintegration (luminously translated by Zenith) chillingly mimics the surrounding political climate, as two dictatorships--of Portugal and of this family--perish. (Sept.)