Set in the late 1980s, Jesse Lee Kercheval’s Brazil reads like a cross between Miami Vice and The Catcher in the Rye (with, perhaps, a hint of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas thrown in for good measure). Kercheval’s protagonist, Paulo, is a nineteen-year-old college dropout and parking lot attendant who’s struggling to find his place in the world when a mysterious older woman named Claudia asks if he wants to go for a ride in her BMW. The ride, it turns out, is initially more of a drug-fueled cross-country trek through the American heartland, complete with one-night stays in seedy motels and brief pilgrimages to tacky tourist traps. As the narrative progresses, however, Brazil transforms itself into a touching coming of age story in which worries over the past and future resolve themselves in a life-affirming commitment to living in the present.
-Review by Marc Schuster