The Taker and Other Stories

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5

American audiences, weaned on the blood-and-gore shock treatments of the likes of Quentin Tarantino and Bret Easton Ellis, might be unfazed by this collection of stories by Brazilian master provocateur Rubem Fonseca. Still, The Taker is like a blast to the head—here is a dark, sinister Rio de Janeiro, populated by street urchins, stalkers and serial killers. What sort of urban hell have we stumbled into?

In short, fragmented vignettes that ring with the hard-boiled edge of crime fiction. Fonseca, 83, has charted his own territory, a Third World nightmare of random violence and anomie, festering rage and class resentment. In stories like “The Taker” and “Happy New Year,” assassins pick out their prey among wealthy partygoers before casually and remorselessly cutting them down to size. (Literally, too—this book is rife with scenes of mutilation, in which body parts often end up stuffed into boxes and briefcases.) As the tightly wound narrator of “The Taker” seethes, “I say, inside my head, and sometimes out loud, ‘Everybody owes me!’ They owe me food, pussy, blankets, shoes, a house, car, watch, teeth.” A bitter preamble to his killing spree, these words could speak for most of the book’s characters, a motley crew of blank souls adrift in a haze of pills, booze, postcoital sweat and gun smoke.

So then, is Fonseca—who has been famously championed by Pynchon, among others—a depraved poet-prophet of Rio’s street terror (familiar now to anyone who’s seen the films City of God or Elite Squad)? Or is his literature simply a numbing reflection of a too-awful reality? That probably depends on your sensibility—and how close you are to the carnage.

By Rubem Fonseca. Translated by Clifford Landers. Open Letter, $15.95.