The May issue of Quill & Quire features a review of The Green and Purple Skin of the World.
The world described in paulo da costa’s second book of short fiction is a sensual one. A poet and translator, da costa favours imagistic language to explore characters’ relationships to one another and to nature, depicting a scenic tapestry of interpersonal phenomena that spans love, war, aging, and death. The book’s 16 stories tend to be brief, but the longer and more complex pieces are the most satisfying.
A prioritization of setting and atmosphere over plot is established in the first story, “Flies,” in which two older Portuguese men lament the lack of respect they receive while a pair of young bucks eyes them with disdain from across the street. A simple conversation between a man and his mother becomes a moody meditation on memory and history in “The Table,” which takes place in the son’s childhood home, where “smoke spirals from the mouth of the chimney, turns into a bruised cloud.”
The stories are populated by well-drawn male protagonists, like the mechanic in the standout, “Not Written in Pencil,” who claims indifference regarding his wife’s constant and brazen infidelity but eventually takes out his suppressed rage on a most undeserving target. “Another Sunday” is typical of da costa’s stories in that not a lot happens – a quarryman chats with a businessman at a soccer game, while the working-class man’s disinterested little boy collects cigarette butts.
The slice-of-life formula is broken a handful of times, most notably in “Those Who Follow,” about a man stalking a cougar. The story is told from the viewpoints of both hunter and hunted, and while the notion of an anthropomorphized wildcat may initially raise a reader’s scepticism, da costa succeeds in creating a tale that’s at once reflective and possessed of a keen dramatic tension that some of the book’s more languid and poetic pieces lack.
Reviewed by Shawn Syms (from the May 2013 issue)
Publisher: Freehand Books
Price: $21.95 paper
Page count: 208 pp.
Size: 5½ x 8½