Javier Montes on Emilio Fraia
GRANTA 121: BEST OF YOUNG BRAZILIAN NOVELISTS
Introduced by previous Best of Young Novelists
Emilio Fraia was born in São Paulo. He is an editor at the publishing house Cosac Naify and has also worked as a journalist for the magazines piauí and Trip. He co-wrote the novel O verão do Chibo (2008) with Vanessa Barbara, which was shortlisted for the São Paulo Prize for Literature, and is currently working on the graphic novel Campo em branco with the illustrator D.W. Ribatski. ‘A Temporary Stay’ (‘Temporada’) is a new story. Here, as part of an ongoing series on the twenty authors from The Best of Young Brazilian Novelists issue – which was first published in Portuguese by Objectiva – Emilio Fraia is introduced by previous Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelist Javier Montes.
Remember Sunset Boulevard? It came to my mind as I read Emilio Fraia’s piece. Both have powerful openings that reflect each other almost perversely. The movie opens with a corpse floating in a swimming pool. A voiceover promises to reveal how it ends up there. Fraia also begins with a swimming pool and the possibility of a corpse hidden in its dark water. But it does not float: it stays stubbornly under the water. So deep, in fact, that nothing ever rises to the surface.
So here is the tale: a riddle in which the corpse in the pool – the mystery at the opening, the secret at its core will not be solved. A story that begins when the water has gone down the drain and we are left with the strange remains and unidentifiable particles of what lies at the bottom.
The story introduces a writer – and a way of writing – who claims a territory that is less Sunset Boulevard, in the end, and more Twilight Zone. In a strange limbo: under the surface of deep, opaque water.
We read about residual lives: about what’s left of them once everything has been drained away. We are faced with a devastated man at the deep bottom of the interior of São Paulo; and then to that man when he was a promising tennis player in London, many years before.
Whatever happened to him and made the latter turn into the former remains hidden. We sense menace: we are faced with a particular kind of symbolic murder mystery (again Sunset Boulevard) in which the murder has been spared. Or is about to happen. O has always already happened.
Speaking of murders, Fraia’s story also put me in mind of a Brazilian modernist master, Lúcio Cardoso and his Chronicle of the Murdered House, where there were no corpses either but one breathed the same claustrophobic atmosphere of enigmas never to be solved. Or, just beyond the Brazilian southern frontier, of the Uruguayan Juan Carlos Onetti, the greatest writer in Spanish of the last century, and his nightmarish, despairing stories, or no, more: beyond despair. Because once again one thinks of limbo, rather than purgatory, when reading this piece.
Like them, like the writers I admire the most, Fraia sets himself the most difficult and respectable task a writer can face: unveiling the mystery without revealing the secret. – Javier Montes, Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists, 2010.Translated by Alfred Mac Adam.
A Temporary Stay
The leg with the bum knee drags as he walks. The caretaker runs ahead to shut off the water valves, start up the pump. His only remaining staff are the ageing caretaker and a fat housekeeper who doesn’t let a day go by without airing out the rooms, to let some life pass through, as she says.
It’s a place of tarnished cutlery, outdated gym equipment, a marble fireplace, filthy cloth napkins. Towards the back of the patio, the unused bar shares the space with a purple hot tub in which people have left behind oars, bags of fertilizer, a tennis net, a pair of Le Coq Sportifs missing their laces. In a low voice, he runs down an inventory: sheets, stacks of plates, chipped teacups, the wooden owls in the entrance hall.