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Ivan the Terrifying

On Books

By Thomas A. Christenfeld

The Tower of Glass

By Ivan Angelo

Avon; 195 pages; $3.95

IF BRAZILIAN AUTHOR Ivan Angelo did not get bored with and laugh at his own words, their oppressiveness would send even the most patient reader scrambling for freedom and sanity. Laughter is, in fact, the reader's only means of warding off the cold, crushing force of the five interwoven tales of Angelo's recently translated book, The Tower of Glass.

Strangely these stories do not bear down on the reader with the weight of their brutal sex and violence; rather it is Angelo's stylistic violence that is almost unbearable. The graphic, crude rape of Bete, a prostitute, and the torture and murder of five men innocently drinking at the local bar stand out almost as welcome reference points in a mass of words that create--and then ignore--these scenes of horror.

Angelo's words are only bearable when they accept responsibility for the creation of a narrative event--be it memories of masturbation or a teenager buying his first pair of pyjamas. When these infrequent reference points do emerge, they last only long enough for the reader to make a desperate grab at gaining understanding of Angelo's fiction before the memory fades or the reader--absorbed in the tales--chances upon a boy full of lead, upon more of the author's stylistic violence.

WHILE ANGELO'S language grows more insidious as the book progresses, the tales gain coherency. The first tale "Conquest" never rests upon any firm literary ground. The main characters Mr. de Moura and Sir Henry fade into one another. The narration slides betwee choppy dialogue and run-on unparagraphed pages shifting between business letters and unabashed seduction. At times the story simply disintegrates into what seems like a list of x-rated magazines or lubricants.

"Conquest" generates a potpourri of unstable images and dumps them disinterestedly on the reader's lap. The tale "Friday Night/Saturday Morning" continues with this lack of concern, though with more violent images. It stars four men who act as a death squad randomly mutilating strangers just for the hell of it. Clinical descriptions of gunshot wounds mingle with the grief of victims' relatives.

By the time the reader reaches "The Real Son of The Bitch," the text has settled into a more conventional mode as it fairly faithfully follows the thoughts and desperation of a prostitute. The words settle into calmer sequences and the characters hold onto their initial identities. This narrative that has finally found its own internal logic grows stronger in the fourth and last tales, "The Tower of Glass" and "Lost and Found." The text reasserts its power, but uses the power to defy and oppress the reader rather than to transmit the author's ideas.

In the final story, the text even defies the author, forcing him to abdicate his control, leaving him the power only to make wry interjections. With the collapse of any external control the words become coldly manipulative and unbearable--more terrifying than in the first two tales, in which the violence of Angelo's language interrupts the reader's attempt to identify with the characters.

The narrative continues to suffer unexplained breakdowns, lapsing into semi-poetic word association, noises, and archaic spelling. These breakdowns jar all the more powerfully as they occur within passages of complete textual self-control. They undermine the text's tacit claim of logic leaving a wasteland devoid of any structure, any shelter.

IN THIS BOOK that leaves no foothold for the reader, there does remain something outside and parallel to the story--the author's native country, Brazil. The repressive police, poverty, unemployment and brutally manipulative government are not merely the imaginative creations of Ivan Angelo.

In The Tower of Glass, he has translated his country into a verbal form and let the words act as he sees his government acting--crushing, tossing aside, using its people.

He plays with his words to create a state of intellectual torment in his readers to make them confront his country's predicament. His artistry lies not in an ability to write pleasant fiction, but in his powerful ability to use an inherited form in novel ways. Angelo's book offers no repose to its readers, no chance to lapse into a happy understanding with the text. One can only laugh and skim through the pages, as the narrator does at times, or wrestle with the book.

Perhaps in its original Spanish The Tower of Glass flows more beautifully. The book is an intellectual excercise, a challenge, not an escape into a verbal paradise. In this profoundly, horribly real work Angelo uses all his art to capture a life as convoluted and shifting, helpless and oppressive as his own prose: this intellectual challenge is not an ivory tower but The Tower of Glass.

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