little creatures

Fábio Miguez (Journal de Resenhas)


Commentary on the book by Rubem Fonseca

And if someone asked the obvious question: after all, who are all these creatures talking to? It's because? All this multitude of neurotics big and small, fakers big and small, involved in their own farces and those of others, suffering love and hate ailments, in a rhythm of comedy and tragedy, in the labyrinth of voices of Rubem Fonseca's short stories – all these people who don't get tired of talking, not ashamed to confess the worst things... but confess to whom?

“The best fiction writer is nothing more than a ventriloquist”, says a would-be author (in “O Bordado”), after having his girlfriend's full name, Maria Auxiliadora, tattooed on his penis, while he waits for his poetry to get hard. And the reader-confidant is immediately suspicious of ventriloquism, since no tattoo artist Denílson in life and no jealous Mara would say “penis” when the subject is “cock”. And if the fiction writer has the ear to make two teasing old ladies reflect on the differences between the offensive word “arthritis” and the sympathetic “arthrosis” (in “Virtudes Teologias”), it is clear that the subtleties of broken registration cannot be gratuitous.

It doesn't always work, but this transversal style, which cuts one discourse into another – whether in terms of language, or in terms of characters and events – is characteristic of Rubem Fonseca, who also shuffles his literary references, with the same strategic sense. Thus, the terrors of confinement, for example, Edgar Allan Poe's classic obsession, now reappear (in “Darkness and Lucidity”), in a context that brings to light the whole sexy dark night of the soul. And alluding, perhaps, to the seductive theories of reading by Paul de Man, author of Blindness and Insight (1971), where one reads the no less classic prediction that “interpretation is nothing but the possibility of error”.

The phrase could serve as an epigraph for little creatures; were it not for the fact that the book already had a better one, extracted from the Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) by Boswell: “Nothing is too small for so small a creature as man. It is through the study of small things that we achieve the great art of having the least misfortunes and the most happiness possible.” Do the great dr. johnson quote The Great Art from Dr. Fonseca, two hundred years in advance, has nothing of arrogance or frisson academic: it's just one of many small graces of a short story writer who masters his ironies. All these figures are like a board, or a keyboard, where he comes to improvise, with different moods and without too much concern, some plots of our “little life” (as another candidate for Rubem Fonseca says in the book).

Not every plot is a trauma; but “every trauma is a drama, and vice versa”. The great metaphor of the book, if it is not the theater of the world, is at least the theater of Brazil (or of Rio de Janeiro, which is not the same thing, but serves as an emblem). But for whom, then, are the little creatures in these three dozen tales speaking? Possible answer: to the audience. A book of monologues and dialogues, for an audience of reader-spectators.

A hypothesis that gains weight when one thinks of the first story, “The Choice”, almost a tribute to Samuel Beckett, with local accents. “It's hard for a guy to have to choose between two that he really wants. But that's life", monologues an anonymous wretch, swinging between two possible happinesses: new dentures (to eat "a filet and cheese sandwich on crusty and toasted French bread") or everyone's chair (to "walk around the grounds which is in front of my house, go to the field where the kids play soccer…”). The “choice” also has other connotations when her daughter asks if she can bring her girlfriend to live with them. The tale is a comic triumph of the unspoken, coloring the timbre of speech with refinements worthy of a great director.

The same goes for so many other stories where: (a) the characters say as much or more through their tone than through the meaning of what they say; and (b) the reader is generously placed, by the author, in the condition of understanding better what is at stake than the characters themselves. But it is always worth remembering that (c) the author knows more than we do.

At the age of 77, reaching his nineteenth book (not counting anthologies), Rubem Fonseca writes as the consummate master of his own school. He gives himself the pleasure of inventing even one or two cases with a happy ending – “happy” with the proper dose of absurdity, but also a sincere share of affection. This was already true in some of the Love stories (1997) or certain loves of Secretions, Excretions and Mistakes (2001), to stay in that department alone. It gains a sequel, now, in the suburban inversions of “Família é uma Merda”, or in the Dom-Giovanesque “Caderninho de Nomes”, or in the soap opera “Miss Julie”. Let no one be mistaken: error, madness and gross stupidity, a sacred triad at the origin of languages, continue to work wonders and damage, even here, in the good-natured eyes of the writer.

There is a difference, however, between the ambitions of the first books, from the 1960s and 1970s – censored by the military regime, since then integrated into the popular, school and university canon –, and a certain serenity, or apparent tranquility of the younger ones. little creatures it seems written at a television pace, more than the usual cinematographic one. Even the brutal realism of certain cases conforms to limits that are both formal and stylistic. As if the author had decided that at this point it was up to him to write freely, with the natural intensity of his art, without having to fight every word for a place in the sun of literature.

Whatever is uneven in the result – and certain tales (at the beginning and end of the book) are obviously stronger than others – will be accommodated by the context. The great effort is to collect, to later display, with exaggerated main features, this aberratory gallery of voices. A kind of anthology of caricatures, or a sketchbook of a Daumier-writer, cultivating the art of walking the streets of Rio de Janeiro without supreme demands. And with the right to also practice self-caricature.

Aberratory? But isn't it always there, silent or screaming, everywhere, for anyone who has ears to hear? And does no one listen? Nobody, comma. It is nothing incredible that, after all, Rubem Fonseca has the duty, or responsibility, to give voice to the speakers and the mute. It has been his duty for almost forty years now, ever since he took on the task of recording, with the proper dose of understanding and indignation, the words of little creatures who speak, and also of those who do not speak, for the benefit of those who can. to read.

*Arthur Nestrovski, essayist, musical and literary critic, is artistic director of OSESP and author, among other books, of Everything has to do. literature and music. São Paulo: However, 2019.


Ruben Fonseca. little creatures. São Paulo, Companhia das Letras, 2002.

Originally published in Folha de S. Paulo, Journal of Reviews, on 11/05/2002 and reissued on Word and shadow: critical essays (Studio).


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