Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Brazil by John Updike

Before I get into the meat of this review (or perhaps I should say, the "yam" of this review) I want to share two funny stories about this book. First, I got this book secondhand in Japan and it's a bit of a curiosity because the book is in English but the price tag is in Chinese and I couldn't find the edition that I have on Goodreads, so I'm assuming that it's an out of print paperback edition. What a weird thing to find in a foreign country, right? (I was kind of hoping that they'd have some bodice rippers. They did not.)

Second, the sex scenes in this book are really weird. How weird, do you ask? Well, the author likes to refer to peens as "yams." Yes, that stuff that you buy by the can every Thanksgiving if you live in the U.S. of A. Crazy, right? I was telling my mother about this book and she rolled her eyes and said, "Is this one of your stupid bodice rippers, Nenia?" And I said, no, it's actually John Updike. And she looked utterly stricken: "Not Witches of Eastwick John Updike?" And I was like, "Yup. That one."

I think she's still traumatized by that revelation.

The story, as far as stories go, is pretty basic. It's the typical rich girl/poor boy story line that you've probably seen a million times. The twist is that it's a retelling of Tristan and Iseult (Tristao and Isabel) set in Brazil that attempts to make social commentary on race, class, and socioeconomics. While a worthy goal in and of itself, BRAZIL fails to do so, in my opinion, and comes off as dated, silly, trashy, porny, and even outright offensive at times.

Also, something it did that really puzzled me is that for the vast majority of the book, it's told as a straightforward tale that can sometimes be ridiculous but follows the rules of reality. However about 70% of the way in, Isabel and Tristao are captured by people who enslave Tristao and keep her on as a concubine. In revenge, Isabel meets with an indigenous dude who practices something like voodoo and actually flips their ethnicities, so Isabel goes from being white to being black, and Tristao goes from being black to being white. And this totally comes out of nowhere.

I'm still not over it. And I just read a vampire "romance" about incest and neck teabagging, so that really says something.

Here are some of this book's greatest hits:

[H]e felt his cashew become a banana, and then a rippled yam, bursting with weight (17).

His penis, so little when limp, a baby in its bonnet of foreskin, frightened her when it became a yam, stiff and thick with a lavender knob and purple-black ripples of gristle and veins (54-55).

Her cunt was to him like cream poured upon two years of aching (128).

He inhaled, with those round apprehensive nostrils she had freshly admired tonight, the basic mystery of her shit... (130).

[S]he ewanted to toy with his yam, and trace its swollen veins with the tip of her tongue, and sip the little transparent drop of nectar from its single small slit (188).

The smell of extremely stale cheese arose from his genitals (232).

[N]ow that she was no longer the color of clouds and crystal but that of earth, of wet smooth wood, of glistening dung (244).

^I thought this felt particularly offensive, as this is following Isabel's transformation from white to black. She goes from being crystalline and cloud-like to shitty and earthy? LOL, what even. #nope

Here's a picture of my edition. Yes, it was published in the 90s. Can you tell from the clashing primary colors and serif-heavy font? (1994, as a matter of fact, by Fawcett Crest.)

I can't say I recommend it - to anyone - but it was pretty hilariously awful, especially when riding on the heels of that aforementioned vampire book.

1 to 1.5 out of 5 stars

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