If you really want to learn about a country, you should study the stories it tells itself. The entries in Granta's new "Best of Young Brazilian Novelists" issue ($16.95) closely resemble a sampling of American fiction from the 1950s. These are stories about suburban homes, about children raised in relative comfort, about returning to those homes as young adults, about class envy. With Brazil poised, as it is, on the cusp of a much larger role in the world, this makes sense.
Antonio Prata's "Valdir Peres, Juanito e Poloskei" opens like an economic fairy tale. "At first, everybody on the street had the same purchasing power," our narrator informs us, "and belongings per capita comprised a bicycle, a football, a box of Playmobil, some building blocks and other odds and ends." It's a socialist paradise for children. But one Christmas, a kid gets a remote-control car and all hell breaks loose. It's perhaps the most obvious example in the collection, but in its own way, each of the 20 stories is about growing up in a wealthy nation whose best days are most definitely ahead.
Granta's surveys of fiction—they're probably most famous for their "Best of Young British Novelists" series, which served as Zadie Smith's introduction to the world—obviously don't form a comprehensive sample of any culture's work. (The editors seem particularly averse to any fiction with even a whiff of genre, for example, and experimental fiction almost never makes the cut. Put more simply: Granta is the magazine that published Jonathan Franzen, not David Foster Wallace.) But there are a variety of voices here, from Carol Bensimon's "Sparks," about a young woman returning home to visit an estranged childhood friend, to Laura Erber's modern-art-obsessed "That Wind Blowing Through the Plaza."
The most adventurous story in the magazine comes from Vincius Jatobá, who will read at a special Granta event with Cristhiano Aguiar at Elliott Bay Book Company on Monday. "Still Life" pairs two run-on monologues as the narrator examines a house that's fallen into disrepair ("the quilt on the silent bed becoming a filthy cloak") and, separately, the memories inside all the objects ("I'd hide behind the kitchen door afraid of the screaming chickens, Mum breaking their necks one by one and gathering their blood in a pan...").
If Brazil's economic rise closely resembles the postwar United States, I expect that Granta's next Brazilian survey will be loaded, Bret Easton Ellis–like, with brand names and satires of materialism. But for now, these stories are packed full of brandless record players and toys and cars and new houses and "indie bands." It's a flood of stuff, a sea of objects that form a womb from which these characters are trying to free themselves.