Seven Days In Rio
A re-imagined Interzone of psychoanalysis and prostitution where all woman are (literally) whores.
...or "Tiffanys," as Kenny Cantor affectionately calls them. Not that it makes the idea any less offensive.
Kenny is a successful CPA in a Brooks Brothers suit on holiday in Rio de Janeiro. He isn't there for the food or the beaches or the nightlife- he's there to pay for pussy. The man is a veteran sex tourist on the prowl, and he's heard that the streets of Rio are paved with the stuff. Lucky for him, in Levy's version of the notorious South American city, the rumors turn out to be true.
Everywhere Kenny turns, glorious opportunity awaits. Scantily clad women patrol every corner, flashing their wares at the slightest hint of interest. It is a buyer's market- or, more ironically, a "soft" market- which Kenny most certainly isn't. Unfortunately, just when it looks like he is about to get down to business, a psychoanalytical convention rolls into town, and our horny hero is sucked into a regimen of pseudo-Lacanian therapy that cock blocks his leisure activities at every turn.
It's like an erotic version of Luis Bunuel's The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, in which a group of upper middle class friends repeatedly sit down to dinner, but never get to eat. Only in Rio, the meal isn't of the culinary variety. A sumptuous banquet of Brazilian whores is laid out before Kenny, who seems to have a bad case of option paralysis, because he never actually consummates. He engages in foreplay, going as far as receiving the occasional BJ, but never achieves orgasm. It may sound frustrating for him, but is equally as frustrating for the reader. The result is a case of literary blue balls.
But it's all in the service of metaphor, and this one's a doozy. Levy likens psychoanalysis to- you guessed it- prostitution, from the obvious correlation of paying for release to the potential for rejection and heartache. To illustrate this point, Kenny becomes infatuated with a Japanese analyst named China Dentata, who has an aversion to wearing underwear (at least during office hours). China treats him in a lifetime's worth of 60 second micro-sessions over the course of three days. He desperately wants to have sex with her, but doesn't want to get "involved" when there are so many prostitutes to fuck.
Obviously, he has issues. Scary, sexy issues, which Levy mines for comedy gold. I'd make a glory hole joke to complete the geological analogy, but I'm afraid that in this context it might be misconstrued. Suffice to say, Rio is chock full of witty one-liners and ribald sexual description. I wouldn't call the novel pornographic, but Levy is matter-of-fact in his raunchiness, which is try-and-suppress-your-laughter-because-people-are-beginning-to-stare-at-you funny. For example, this passage in which Kenny describes why he became an accountant:
I love touching vaginas so much that I once toyed around with the notion of becoming a gynecologist. However, my mother's own excitement about the prospects of my being a doctor blunted my ambitions. Every time I thought about a woman in stirrups, I saw my mother's face. She was understandably disappointed when I dropped the idea. In her inimitable way she would ask, "You're going to make your own mother pay to have some stranger examine her?"
It may read crass, but there is a highbrow method to Levy's dirty-minded madness. Kenny seems to have just as many socio-political discussions as he does sexual encounters. When their mouths aren't otherwise occupied, even the prostitutes come off as erudite, quoting from Susan Sontag and Herbert Marcuse with a professorial verve. It's as if Levy were compensating for making them all whores.
But he isn't. This isn't some anti-female polemic and Levy shouldn't have to apologize for what is superficially offensive. The man is fearless in his exploration of human sexuality, and is operating on such a heightened plane of absurdity that I have a hard time believing anyone could take it seriously. For one thing, Kenny's account strikes me as very unreliable. He talks the talk of an experienced cocksmith, yet it almost feels like that's all he is- talk. Even when he is staring sex in the face, he is preoccupied with self diagnosing his neuroses, always thinking ahead to the next encounter. When he finally allows himself to climax, it is an anticlimax, to be sure, but it's the only logical conclusion to this story. Kenny isn't disappointed, and we shouldn't be either. For him, the trip goes down as a successful one, and he heads home anticipating the prospect of next year's vacation. The reader should be as happy as he is, because we've had just as much fun, if not more.