In this harsh first novel by a Brazilian actress, five elderly men reflect on their friendships with each other and their exhaustive love lives.
It gives nothing away to explain that all five—Álvaro, Sílvio, Ribeiro, Neto, Ciro—die; Torres structures her book around each man’s dying narration. Walking home for the last time, in 2014, 85-year-old Álvaro is bitter, misogynistic, and highly critical of his already dead friends. Glad to be done with sex, he recalls the unpleasant half-baked orgy Sílvio held before leaving Rio years earlier. Each man will remember this orgy in a tellingly different way that highlights his character. Lying helpless on a sidewalk at age 66 in 2009, banker Sílvio admits the orgy was a phony farewell. He never really left Rio, merely transferred to a different bank branch to avoid his friends. If Álvaro is a cold fish, Sílvio is a crude, selfish sensualist. Dumping his wife, he carries on an obsessive, tawdry affair with a young bisexual woman who happens to be Ribeiro’s girlfriend. After Sílvio’s death, from Parkinson’s combined with recreational drug use, his son runs an ad apologizing for Sílvio’s years of bad behavior and inviting others to celebrate his death. Ribeiro and Neto are outliers. Rebeiro, who suffers a heart attack after taking Viagra at age 83, is the group’s only bachelor but has always secretly loved Ciro’s wife, Ruth. Half black, Neto has lived under pressures his friends would never understand. A decent man, he dies in 1992, one year after his wife of over 30 years. Everyone admires handsome, intelligent, passionate Ciro, but he commits an unforgivable act of cruelty against Ruth. When Álvaro asks if the fast-growing cancer that strikes 50-year-old Ciro in 1990 is God’s punishment, Ciro implies that he hopes so. So will readers.
The flair and wit of Torres’ writing does not allay the unpleasant aftertaste left by this unforgiving portrait of men at their worst.