REVIEW by Willard Manus
George Orwell, Jonathan Swift, Candide and make room for Eduardo Rabasa,
a young Mexican writer whose debut novel, A ZERO-SUM GAME, satirizes contemporary
society in a savagely comic way that few can match. Published by Deep
Vellum in a translation by Christina MacSweeney, the novel manages to
sustain its all-out attack on consumerism and fake democracy from beginning
Rabasas societal microcosm is Villa Miserias, a huge residential
estate owned by Selon Perdumes, a mysterious Trump-like figure whose cardinal
doctrine is Quietism in Motion. Perdumes is also a master
at manipulating the lives of his renters and employees. Like an
expert dentist who extracts a molar without his anaesthetized patient
being aware, his magnetism attracted confessions that enabled him to understand
people via their weaknesses.
Perdumes goal is to alter the way life was lived in Villa Miserias
in earlier days. He works craftily to take control of everyones
thoughts, activities and fantasies, but in a mock-benevolent, seemingly-caring
way. It is fascism with a smiley face.
One of his ploys is to sponsor an election for the presidency of a residents
committee. Candidate Max Michels is a lowly clerk with an anti-authoritarian
streak inherited from his decrepit but idealistic father whose motto was:
The measure of each man lies in the dose of truth he can withstand.
Max, who suffers from black-dog depression and often hears voices in his
head, is a reluctant campaigner, but he is spurred on by his bohemian
pals and his girlfriend, Nelly Lopez, a journalist whose specialty is
international relations, which the author defines as the history
of regimented aggression.
the sprawling, populous plot of A ZERO-SUM GAME would take pages. Suffice
to say that the author dramatizes his main theme-man against powerin
a fiercely intelligent, always-ironic way which provokes laughter and
tears in equal amounts.