By the Book: Seven Days in Rio
Wainscott author Francis Levy once again draws his bow and takes aim at Erotomania, which just happens to be the name of his previous novel. His new satiric sortie, Seven Days in Rio (Two Dollar Radio Press), includes that subject and more. Much more. And less, much less than either you or Levy’s sardonic, sex-obsessed protagonist Kenny Cantor might expect. At last, real “pornography”—the word means writing about prostitutes. Pun intended: “Real” is Brazilian currency, which Levy often invokes as “reality”—the perfect reference for this ironic fantasy.
You can’t “really” succumb to satisfying sex if you’re doing a number, and does Cantor ever do one on his own delusions of love and lust, as well as on the delusions of psychoanalysis—Freudian, Lacanian, Sullivanian, Jungian (and with a nod to Skinner). In an Author Note, Levy says the Lacanian stuff is made up. “So don’t start writing irate letters to my blog, correcting this or that or asking for refunds.”
Seven Days in Rio is a clever, literate, not infrequently laugh-out-loud odyssey undertaken by a middle-aged, culturally informed Jewish accountant from New York who goes to Rio, the alleged sex capital of the world, as a sex tourist. He keeps missing out on culminations, however, because of his ruminations—mainly revisiting teenage guilt at having angered his mother when she discovered tight jeans in his closet (he goes to Rio wearing a Brooks Brothers suit, from its 1818 collection). How serendipitous that the hotel where he is staying is also holding a psychoanalytic convention.
Although whores are everywhere, freely showing their wares—Ken calls them all “Tiffany” (remember Holly Golightly’s real occupation in Breakfast At Tiffany’s?)—he tells the Copacabana concierge that he wants a sexy girl with all the best features, a request that reminds him “of the way my mother ordered fish over the phone: ‘I want a nice big piece of salmon, not too fancy.’” Meanwhile, he meets a Japanese Tiffany, called China, a Lacanian psychiatrist, who wears no underwear, with whom he falls in lust but who winds up treating him in 50-second Lacanian sessions (saving him time, though not money). Though he acknowledges the oddity of a CPA knowing so much about psychoanalysis, he points out that he’s from New York “and all educated New Yorkers are experts in psychoanalysis, whether they undergo treatment or not.”
His sophistication gets him points, as when he chances upon an aging Tiffany: “Prostitution is the world’s oldest profession, but Rio was home to the world’s oldest prostitutes”—who wants to know if he’s “going out,” hooker lingo that reminds Ken of Noam Chomsky’s “universal grammar. This Tiffany looks to him a bit like Susan Sontag,” but she replies that she’s just a simple woman and doesn’t buy into Sontag’s “whole idea about the autonomy of art.”
Much of the hilarity of Seven Days turns on picking up on the wild references, many to literature, French literary theory and foreign movies. Levy also plays on his own name, noting at one point that a Dr. Francesco Levi from Parma is making a major ballroom presentation on “Erotomania: The Sequel.” The layering can be delicious, as when Cantor describes China’s mother as someone who “slept with a majority of the members of both houses of Brazil’s parliament, making her the most powerful woman in the country, at least while congress [!] was in session.”
A short book, written as an extended first-person account (no, it’s not autobiographical—Levy’s not even been to Rio), Seven Days never loses its thread even though many Tiffanys come and go, including transsexuals. As for theme, if one must be teased out, the author once remarked in interview that “We’re all sex tourists,” at least in our mind’s eye. Perhaps we’re all patients as well. Certainly a good number of us never tire of writing memoirs about our repressive lives and our often over-the-top attempts to overcome (pun intended).
Read more reviews by Joan Baum here.