A frustrated publisher receives a mysterious angst-ridden manuscript: 'a friend' must send it in installments; its contents would put the author in danger. As he pieces together the story, he learns that the author is the wife of one of the two Martelli brothers - gangsters who dominate a small town in the Brazilian interior. Surely her dark outpourings are a cry for help? One by one, he dispatches his motley collection of friends to Frondosa - a town totally obsessed with five-a-side football - to investigate and to bring her to safety.
Release date: October 25, 2012
Publisher: MacLehose Press
Print pages: 120
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Luís Fernando Veríssimo
Corina has since published several books of poetry and pensées with great success. She makes a point of sending me invitations to her various launches and signings. I understand her latest publication is a collection of her complete poetry and prose, four hundred pages of the stuff. In hardback. I live in fear that one day she’ll turn up at the office and hurl that great brick at my head too.
A more immediate threat, at the time, came from Fulvio Edmar, the author of Astrology and Love, who had never received any royalties for his work. He had paid for the first edition himself and felt that he should receive full royalties for all the editions printed after the book took off. Marcito did not agree, and I was the one who had to respond to Fulvio Edmar’s ever more outraged demands. For years, we exchanged insults by letter, although we never met. He once described to me in great detail how, if ever we did meet, he would put my testicles where my tonsils are. I, in turn, warned him always to carry a knuckleduster in his pocket.
However, even my most violent rejection letters, my Monday-morning diatribes, end with a charming postscript. On Marcito’s instructions. If, however, you would care to pay for the publication of your own book, the publisher will be delighted to review this evaluation etc., etc. Marcito and I were at school together. Two spotty fifteen-year-olds. Knowing that I was the best in the class at writing essays, he invited me to pen some dirty stories which he then stapled together to make a book entitled The Wanker, to be rented out to anyone who wanted to take it home with them, on condition that they return it the following day – unstained. After we left school, we didn’t see each other for years, until, that is, I sought him out on hearing that he had started his own publishing house. I had written a novel, for which I needed a publisher. And, no, it wasn’t a dirty book. We had a good laugh about The Wanker, but Marcito said that unless I paid for the publication costs myself there was no way he would publish a spy story about a fictitious Brazilian nuclear programme sabotaged by the Americans. The publishing house was only just getting started. His partner in the company was an uncle of his, who owned a fertiliser factory, and whose sole interest in the enterprise was the publication of a monthly almanac to be distributed among his customers in provincial Rio Grande do Sul. But then Marcito made me an offer. He had plans to start a real publishing house and needed someone to help him. If I went to work for him, he would eventually publish my novel. He couldn’t promise me a large salary, but … At that point, I recalled that he had never once shared the money from The Wanker with me. He was doubtless going to exploit me again. But I was seduced by the idea of working for a publisher. I was, after all, a literature graduate, and, at the time, working in a shop selling videos. I was thirty years old and had recently married Julinha. João (Julinha wouldn’t allow me to call him le Carré) was about to be born. So I agreed. That was twelve years ago. My first task was to copy out an encyclopaedia article about chameleons for inclusion in the almanac. A prophetic choice: the chameleon is a creature that adapts to any situation and merges into the background. That is precisely what I’ve been doing ever since. I read manuscripts. I write letters. I come up with most of the copy for an almanac intended to boost the sales of fertilisers. I feel sorry for myself and I drink. And, very slowly, I’m merging into the background.
The publishing house prospered. I discovered that there was more to Marcito than the cretinous rich kid I had always imagined him to be. He had a passion – which I would never have suspected in a collector of motorbikes – for Simenon. Since the success of Astrology and Love, we’ve published more books, mostly paid for by the authors themselves. If we’re lucky or if the author has a large family, some of these books even sell quite well. Occasionally, I recommend that we publish one of the unsolicited manuscripts, especially if it arrives on a Friday, when I am full of good will towards humanity and its literary pretensions because I know that I will end the day at a table in the Bar do Espanhol, where my weekly booze-up begins, my three days of consciousness numbed by the cachaça and beer with which I cut myself free from myself and mi puta vida – my wretched life. My most frequent companion at that table in the Bar do Espanhol is Joel Dubin, who comes into the office twice a week, on Wednesdays and Fridays, to edit the almanac or check the proofs of any forthcoming books. They say that despite his short stature, his blue eyes thrill the girls at the college where he teaches Portuguese. He swears blind that he has never had it off with any of his students, although he does promise wild nights of love to those who manage to pass the university entrance exam. I know little about Dubin’s actual sex life, except that it must be better than mine. Even the chairs in the Bar do Espanhol have a better sex life than I do. Dubin always used to fall in love with entirely unsuitable girls. Once, he was in the middle of an argument with one such girl when she asked the waiter if they had any sparkling wine without the bubbles. Dubin decided there and then that she wasn’t safe out in the world on her own, and they very nearly got married. He wrote poems, bad poems. He introduced himself as “Joel Dubin, minor poet”. He used to recite one of these poems to any potential girlfriend, something about a hypotenuse in search of a triangle. He called this his “geometrical chat-up line”. Girls who understood the poem or smiled just to please him would immediately be rejected, because he loathed intellectuals. He preferred girls who bawled: “What?!”
Dubin and I had long arguments, at the office and at our table in the bar, about literature and grammar. We disagreed radically about the placement of commas. Dubin is a legalist and says that there are rules regarding the use of commas and that these should be respected. I am a relativist: I think that commas are like hundreds and thousands, to be distributed judiciously wherever they are needed and without spoiling one’s enjoyment of the cake. It’s not uncommon for me to re-revise Dubin’s revision of a text and either cut out any commas he has added or add a few of my own in defiance of the rules, wherever I think fit. In the bar, our conversations used to begin with the comma and then branch out to take in the human condition and the universe. These debates would become increasingly vitriolic and strident the more we drank, until the Spaniard who owned the bar – hence the name – would come over and ask us to please keep the noise down. We would heap ever more rancorous insults on every writer in the city. I still don’t know if Dubin accompanied me to the very depths of my weekly plunges into oblivion. I don’t even know how I got home on Friday nights. Perhaps Dubin, having drunk rather less, actually carried me. I’ve never asked. On Saturday evenings, we would find ourselves back at the same table in the Bar do Espanhol, where we would start getting drunk all over again and resume the same insane conversation. It was a way of dramatising our own inescapable mediocrity, a kind of mutual flagellation through banality. Dubin called these endless arguments “Pavannes for the living dead”. On one occasion, we spent almost an hour yelling at each other over some grammatical query or other –
– until the Spaniard signalled to us from behind the bar to keep the noise down.
I also don’t know how I managed to get home in the early hours of Sunday morning. I spent all of Sunday sleeping, while Julinha and João went to lunch at her sister’s house.
I was left alone with Black the dog. The sweet Julinha whom I married when she became pregnant had disappeared, never to be seen again, inside a fat, embittered woman of the same name. On Sundays, she only left food for the dog. If I wanted to eat, I had to negotiate with Black. Julinha hardly spoke to me at all. João, who was twelve, didn’t talk to me either. The only one who did was Black. Well, his eyes seemed to say “I understand, I understand”. On Sunday evenings, I would return to the Bar do Espanhol to meet up with Dubin. The Spaniard, by the way, isn’t Spanish. His name is Miguel, but Professor Fortuna started calling him Don Miguel and then “the Spaniard”. Equally, Professor Fortuna is not a professor. He was a regular at the bar, but never sat at our table. He said that he didn’t like to mix, not with us personally, but wit. . .
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