Review by R. Stephen Shodin
Francis Levy’s Seven Days in Rio is an incredibly elaborate and well-crafted satire built around the sex-starved, psychologically fucked up, seersucker-suit-wearing Kenny Cantor. Kenny is a CPA, self-proclaimed amateur psychoanalyst, and sex tourist on vacation from Manhattan. Much like Kenny, Levy’s snappy sentences bound along like a stupid American: all tourism and no regard for any other culture or value system. So much so that there isn’t a single pause, let alone a chapter break to be had. Even a simple word like commerce is pushed through a prism that renders it more like its arcane definition (sexual intercourse), while numerous arrows are flung at psychoanalysis the way monkeys might fling shit or semen at gawking zoogoers. All of which furthers Levy’s cause, and illustrates the defects of Kenny’s character quite well. The drawback is that any remotely literal reader is completely pummeled by the voracity of Kenny’s myopic view of women and his (extremely sexist) relationship to them.
This is not plucky, Horatian style satire. Levy opts for a more Juvenalian brand of satire, ostensibly holding Kenny out over a cliff and flogging his midsection with one absurdism after another. For instance, in Kenny’s mind every woman in Brazil is a prostitute, or a retired prostitute, or a one-time prostitute, and all of them are named Tiffany. Admittedly, he is a sex tourist, but the joke wears thin quickly. Meanwhile, Kenny stumbles into a psychoanalysis conference and so begins an elaborate and absurd clinical and carnal obsession with a Lacanian analyst whose name rhymes with Vagina Dentata whose questionable ethics and practices are only matched by Kenny’s willingness to participate in them. There is also an all-night interlude with a prostitute that comes from a long line of prostitutes that drives around in a convertible naked, and begs to be fucked in front of her father at a dinner party in her family’s walled mansion that is guarded by topless women holding AK-47s.
Hilarious. Except that it isn’t. Levy’s wit is so dry that it makes the Dasht-e Lut desert feel like Waterworld, and Kenny is so despicable that anyone reading with even a pinch of the reality that he is always trying to spend (Kenny uses the term reality or reals as slang for American dollars) will be left wondering how in the hell something so blatantly misogynist even got published. All of which is precisely Levy’s point. There is no doubt that Levy is wicked smart, has a very strong voice, and is clearly out to poke his Literary knife into our precious little feelings, but none of these facts make the book any less stomach turning, or spleen splitting to read. There’s plenty of room in the world for this brand of contemptuous satire, but it’s a drag when the reader realizes that the author’s contempt for the character is so great that there can be no redemption for Kenny. Whether or not it was Levy’s intention, some readers may be left feeling like there’s no redemption for them either which is an even more depressing thought than any of the ones being satirized.