Friday, March 29, 2013

"Thursday" Review: Brazil

Since today is Good Friday, I posted the Box Office Blitz yesterday so today is the review originally scheduled for then.
This is another of my grumpier reviews.  You know, I think the late John Updike was a great writer.  His Rabbit Angstrom series of books are tremendous, especially the third one "Rabbit is Rich."  But even great authors can pen a stinker.  Of course some people accuse me of not GETTING this book.  No, I GOT it; it just sucked.

by John Updike
(1/5 stars)

I've read a number of Updike's books and I can honestly say this is the worst I've read. This has to be one of the worst books I've ever read, period. It's only made worse by the author's stellar track record otherwise.

For a story that's supposed to be a retelling of "Tristan and Isolde"--a precursor to "Romeo and Juliet"--this book is as romantic as a night at a strip club and as tragic as wearing two different socks. From my count Isabel fathers 5 children whose father is most likely NOT Tristao. That tells you all you need to know about the romance. As for the tragedy, both characters had less personality than a Brazil nut, so why should I care? By page 200 I'd have killed one of them myself if it meant an end to this horrible book.

Here's a summary of the plot: Tristao is black. Isabel is white. They meet on a beach in Rio. They go back to her uncle's place so she can lose her virginity. Over the next few months they have sex a bunch more times. When her father gets upset about their relationship, they run off to Sao Paolo and have lots more sex on a sort of honeymoon. She's captured by hired goons and he spends two years making Volkswagen Beetles until he rescues her and they go off into the wilderness where he becomes a gold miner and she proceeds to have sex with anyone who will pay--and in the process fathers the first two children who are likely not Tristao's. He finds a big gold nugget that brings heat down on them so they flee into the jungle. (Here the story really begins to go off the rails.) Their two children are taken away by hostile natives and never seen again. Then Tristao and Isabel are captured by some kind of warrior-missionaries and Tristao is enslaved to make canoes while Isabel becomes the head warrior-missionary's third wife. She gives birth to her new husband's child--who is mentally challenged--while having relations with the guy's second wife all while Tristao continues to toil away for the next three years. She finally goes to see a shaman so she can free Tristao by switching races with him. So now she is black and he is white. They head back towards civilization, having a lot of kinky sex on the way. Eventually they return to her father in Brasilia, who seems to convince himself that his daughter just got a really great tan in the jungle. Tristao becomes a middle-manager in a textile factory. Isabel becomes a docile wife, giving birth to the one child who might be Tristao's. Then she grows bored and has a fling with a tennis instructor, giving birth to twins who are definitely not Tristao's. (He maybe has a few flings of his own in the meantime.) And then after a dozen years one of them goes on a walk and dies. The end.

That's what the story is, more or less. You talk about the societal issues and allegories and whatnot, but what I described above is the actual content of the story. It's not about love; it's about SEX. These two people are faithful to each other only until someone else walks by. It's not tragic, unless you think (like I do) how much better off these two would have been never having met. The plot itself becomes ridiculous and the last 50 pages tedious.

I am actually feeling in quite a funk now as I write this. This book surpasses disappointment to a level of utter revulsion. You can say I'm a prude or a simpleton, that I don't GET it, in which case we'll have to agree to disagree. I have no use for this book and I deeply regret wasting time to read about two people for whom I have nothing but contempt. If this is any kind of portrait of the human's better not to contemplate that thought.

Tomorrow is another Box Office Blitz!


  1. John Updike has always been a hit or miss proposition for me. I just don't think he lives up to his hype.

  2. Ugh, sounds terrible. It seems to only have the vaguest connection to "Tristan and Isolde." Glad I didn't have to read it. You did me a favor.

    And the part where they switch races really threw me - I would think that would be the foundation for the entire story, given the consequences it would lead to. And what kind of world is it where you can switch races whenever you want? Again, I would think that would have far-reaching consequences.

    Hmmm...actually, that's not a bad idea. I think I'll write that story. Thanks, John Updike!

    1. From what I understand, South American literature frequently incorporates magic into the stories, which Updike was trying to emulate.

  3. You should have just watched Terry Gilliam's unrelated movie of the same title.

  4. I thought you were giving the movie Brazil 1 out of 5 stars! Glad I was right and sorry for this terrible book. Like Tony said, it's worth watching.

  5. Based on your review, I would most definitely give "Brazil" a miss. Wasn't 1 out of 5 stars a bit generous?

    Enjoy the long weekend.


  6. I'll mark that one off of my 'I should read that pile'

  7. I probably would've stopped reading at the "captured to make Volkswagon Beetles" moment.



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