From Publishers Weekly
The first novel by this Brazilian literary and journalistic celebrity to be translated into English offers a rare and wonderfully barbaric story. The Beef Stew Club is a collection of middle-aged gourmands who meet each month to indulge in extravagant dinners. After the death of their leader, Ramos, from AIDS, a new member appears almost magically to take his place. The elusive Lucidio is a remarkable cook but after each of his meals, one member of the club dies. The club members' enthusiasm for their quiche, duck with orange sauce and paella might, indeed, make readers themselves want to indulge; as narrator Daniel puts it, "the possibility of dying really did have an effect on the taste buds... one ate in a state of exaltation, of near euphoria." The novel is an apparent whydunit although we think we know who did it, we are uncertain why until the end, when our certainty of the culprit becomes, as in all great mysteries, utterly derailed. On the way to his maniacal conclusion, Verissimo serves up a critique of male bonding (spoken through the gourmands' disapproving wives and girlfriends), along with a withering probe into the motivations of his eccentric characters, many of whom are variously frustrated and seek transcendence in the satisfaction of their palates. The book's pleasure is increased, as well, by the witty and deft illustrations by Verissimo himself (which recall Picasso's sparer moments) and the sure-footed, expert work of translator Costa. This swift and acidic portrait of a (literally) poisoned network of friendships has a bite that endures because of the great intelligence underlying it.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
*Starred Review* There is limited suspense in Verissimo’s novel about the final days of a deadly dining club, even though it imitates a classic Agatha Christie structure. One by one, each of the 10 wealthy friends who meet monthly to devour extravagant feasts is killed upon accepting a poisoned extra portion of the dish he craves the most. The cook behind these dangerous delicacies is Lucídio, a mysterious gourmand who steps in to take the place of the group’s former leader, recently dead of AIDS. What appears to be a story about gluttony is just the opposite—each of the gastronomes starves from an empty life, and what better way to fill this void than with the most self-renewing of passions? Eating an exquisite last meal gives each man, if only for a moment, a taste of real emotion, and so they willingly partake in their own demise. In this way, the murders become more like suicides, the final course in the bizarre ritual of formal dining. It’s a plot arc so doomed that it’s not just amusing; it’s morbidly enthralling, like a socially acceptable snuff film. There is indeed a good mystery to be solved in Verissimo’s short work (nicely translated from the Portuguese), but it is the melancholic yearning that makes the prose stick in the head—and gut. The novel was originally published in hardcover in 2002 but quickly disappeared. If you missed it then, don’t now. --Daniel Kraus
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