Very much like his prior selection The Taker and Other Stories, Rubem Fonseca’s Winning the Game is a high meditation on the desperate attachment to passion in Brazil. Most of his characters, whether they be prostitutes, gamblers, fixers, hit men, lovers or writers, display a wholly unhealthy proclivity to live according to momentary whim. To Fonseca, Brazil has an impermanent culture based on the lure of short-term opportunity, where a moment’s preponderance of contentment often leads to adultery, murder, or perhaps even a drop mercy (but don’t count on that).
Fonseca has a knack for writing stark and concise stories, filled with a humid uneasiness one can experience walking down any particular avenue in Rio de Janeiro. Regardless of his characters’ intentions (and they’re mostly questionable), there is always an underlying scheme going on, often times shrouded in layers. It is here that Fonseca’s writing is both brilliant and terrifying, chronicling the big picture of a society that feeds upon itself as the rule rather than the exception. There is no expectation of justice, rather only corruption and the quick decisions people make that change the course of their lives (and other’s) forever.
The first third of the book sets the stage of Fonseca’s fast-paced worldview. Stories like The Hunchback and Botticelli’s Venus and The Game of Dead Men start harmlessly enough, but take uneasy and tragic turns upon conclusion. By the second third he exposes a more philosophical tone; The Art of Walking in the Streets in Rio de Janeiro introduces a more nuanced and deliberate exposition, a small ounce of embittered salvation through his character Augusto, friend of rats, whores, trees, and those generally transient. The final third of the book returns to the unrelenting machinations of avarice, and it is here where one just might realize how much of a modern Poe Fonseca resembles. Both Passion and the title story contrast the irrational justifications of “winning” in an inherently biased society favoring the wealthy. Fonseca is not subtle in dealing with this discrepancy, whether based in love or money. With humor and a flair for highlighting the bizarre noir of his culture, this short collection is quality writing in its entirety.