Beer Cans
In the Rio
De la Plata
Jorge Stamadianos
Translated by
Leland Chambers

(Latin American Literary
Review Press)
Ulysses is the hero of this Latino picaresque novel. He's young, he's lusty, he's hungry, and he wants to get the hell out of Argentina and go to the United States where he can have a car and a home. Unfortunately, as he is preparing his departure, he and neighbor Miriam have a tête-à-tête in the back porch kiddie's pool, described with poetical verve:

    The noise of our bodies thrashing around in the water, the slapping of her ass bouncing again and again off my legs made me think of the ducks in the zoo rushing over to the edge when someone held out a bag of little crackers, thousands of wings beating frantically in a desperate race to get there first.

His afternoon of fun in the pool leads to the inevitable. A few months later, Miriam confronts him with his incipient fatherhood by putting his hands on her belly:

    For a minute I was a giant encircling the ocean with my hands. Something transported me to the Moon, and from there I looked down on the Earth: a gigantic, blue ball with millions of white clouds moving sluggishly around and fleeting stars cleaving space without a sound. My son, with a face just like mine, floating in space, was trying to transmit messages to me in Morse code. When I opened my eyes again, Miriam was gazing at me happily.

However, Ulysses doesn't want to be a father, doesn't want to settle down in Buenos Aires, doesn't want to take over his father's bar --- the Acropolis, of course. He wants out. There's a large American yacht in the local harbor, and on that yacht, a very plump young lady named Chris who's his ticket to freedom. If Ulysses can charm the pants off of her.

He does.

Beer Cans is hard to put down, especially if you are fond of picaresque tales in the style of Tropic of Cancer, The Ginger Man, and Ham on Rye. But come the mid-point of the Stamadianos' novel, something goes awry. What was fun turns sour (perhaps as young Ulysses turns a bit desperate). The harmless playing around ashore develops an edge when Ulysses is aboard the boat, especially on the subject of using gringoes, beating up on blacks, and trying to get "fat Chris" in his bed. The book won an Editorial EmecÚ in its Spanish edition --- whatever that is --- but we would guess that the judges never got past page 100. The translation is great.

--- Jorge Amado

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