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A outra metade.

Miriam Mambrini. A outra metade. Rio de Janeiro. 7 Letras. 2000. 152 pages. ISBN 85-7388-227-1.

IN MANY WAYS, THIS, the author's first novel -- "The Other Half" in English -- displays a natural progression following her O baile das feias (1994) and Grandes peixes vorazes (1997), both of which were well-received short-story collections. After all, A outra metade, too, re-creates the crisis-ridden, self-doubting, middle-class Zona Sul scene, not all that dissimilar from such earlier literary arrivals as Carlos Heitor Cony, Esdras do Nascimento, and, of course, Clarice.

Mambrini's storyline too is at once the day-to-day lifestyle of largely feminine figures, inexorably punctuated by extraordinary concerns. Thus, for example, "The Other Half" goes about dealing with the growing imbalance between the cultivated normalcy long a part of narrator-protagonist Lilian's persona and the outside forces challenging her comforting routine. It is precisely this collision of social values and pressures from both outside and in, from past and present, even from reality and fantasy, as well as the dual nature of the novel's structure, which makes for credible dynamics.

Lilian, then, is yet another still-attractive, quintessential Bovary-Think-Alike, indeed, a middle-aged wife and mother whose grasp on life hardly radiates confidence. Such insecurity centers on her evolving roles, particularly that from passive participant to active player. Hers is a loosely ordered psychological metamorphosis, built both on truncated as well as copious traditional dialogue, and further held together by Lilian's interior monologue.

At story's end (there is even a de facto epilogue), Lilian's eleventh-hour liberating conversation is complete, as reflected throughout the narrative, in a combination of personified options open to her, most important of which is her unconscious emulation of Vera, her newly rediscovered best friend and catalyst. Vera, in fact, is the novel's prodigal daughter, bringing about anti-heroine Lilian's final willingness both to remain alone in Rio and possibly to see more of the artist and Don Juanish Julio Dalori, behind husband Fabio's back. These male figures, in turn, like the other half-dozen men present -- most notably, the handsome Argentine philanderer Mario and Lilian's obsessive memory of long-deceased beau, Teo -- prove to be familiar cliches whose deliberate shallowness detracts little from Lilian's overpowering characterization. (A outra metade is, after all, a psychological novel.).

Another key manifestation of the narrator's break with the past goes right down to the diminished use of flashback. Furthermore, Lilian's thoughts become increasingly monopolized by, and analogous to, the surrounding atmosphere. For one thing, buzz words -- here, such intangibles (and/or derivatives) as lembrar, banal, panico, and imaginacao -- are strewn all along the protagonist's metonymic road back. The suggestion is of Brazil's maddening urban chaos, just as, in the narrative, its chronological hop-scotching and spontaneity of dialogue point to inner confusion regarding her mental state. At the other end, concrete symbols such as the highly significant and reappearing hourglass, as well as timeless cockroaches, both underline and contrast the precarious nature of humankind's day-to-day.

All in all, A outra metade is a worthwhile and entertaining rendering of what has rightly come to be known as compensatory fantasy, popularized early on by Balzac and still going strong.
Malcolm Silverman
San Diego State University
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Silverman, Malcolm
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 2001
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