Vinicius Jatobá was born in Rio de Janeiro. He has written criticism for Estado de S. Paulo, O Globo and Carta Capital. He has also contributed to the anthology Prosas Cariocas and to the film guide 1968 Cinema Utopia Revolução!. Jatobá has written and directed several short films, including Alta Solidão (2010) and Vida entre os mamíferos (2011). Currently, he is at work on his first novel, Pés descalços, and completing Apenas o vento, a collection of short stories, from which ‘Still Life’ (‘Natureza-morta’) is taken. 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 – Vinicius Jatobá is introduced by previous Best of Young American Novelist, Melanie Rae Thon.
You see the house collapsing in disrepair, dust suspended against a fine thread of sunlight, proud furniture cracking and losing its exuberance and shine, the quilt on the bed becoming a filthy cloak, and you think that looking at this house for too long will destroy you, and so you turn, you listen, you imagine, and a woman is speaking, remembering her dream of the house before it was built, believing in dreams, a place where she and her beloved Paulo might be eternally happy, where they might have children and live countless days of joy, but the house insists, you see it sinking, even the FOR SALE sign now cracked and rusted, and Paulo begins to speak his dream of leaving Vera, his madwoman, his pregnant wife, knowing he never will, fearing her swollen stomach might burst and flood the house. . .’
Mesmerizing, incantatory, Vinicius Jatobá’s ‘Still Life’ is an eighteen-page lyric poem, a single sentence spanning generations, a broken-open elegy vast enough to be a novel. One of the wonders of this gorgeously evocative story is the elegant movement between sensibilities, the voices of Vera and Paulo and Pedro erupting as if from a single capacious consciousness, that mysterious second person – you who are looking at the house in its inevitable dilapidation, you who might be reader and storyteller, or the dead returned who see how memory dissipates as objects decay. You might be the grandson who steals Paulo’s journals one at a time and secretly returns them, learning the history of his people in fragments; yes, you are endlessly mutable, a stranger, perhaps, anyone who passes a house long abandoned and begins to wonder, to imagine lives lost, dreams destroyed, you who begins to grieve her own inevitable diminishments, but who also remembers the light, each small gift, each miracle, each blessing, who hears Pedro whisper: man’s ingenuity made the bomb but it also made the lamp.
Yes, everything dies: the toads in the mud, the dog, your child, the madwoman, your wife, and yes, even you will die, and the house too will go back to the dust from whence it came, but the mind, the expansive, loving consciousness that moves around and beyond us, the spirit that does not, as Martin Buber says, circulate like blood in a single body, but passes instead like breath between us, this unbounded, exuberant, curiously permeable consciousness continues through our capacity to gaze at a ruined house and hear whisperings, songs of the dead, their revelations and their praise, their impossible hopes, their devastating beauty.
– Melanie Rae Thon, Best of Young American Novelists, 1996.