Carol Bensimon was born in the southern Brazilian city of Porto Alegre, in 1982. She is the author of the story collection Pó de parede and two novels, Sinuca embaixo d’água and Todos nós adorávamos caubóis. In 2012 she was selected by Granta as one of the Best New Brazilian Novelists.
McSWEENEY’S: So how did you approach the idea of writing a crime story? Did you start with a character, or a particular situation, or something else? Did you think about it differently than you would another sort of story?
CAROL BENSIMON: I tried to stick to my own style and fictional universe, adding a few crime-story elements. Or rather distorting a few crime-story elements. Maybe I failed in that sense. The narrator of my story is in a relationship with a young, politically engaged femme fatale. The whole idea came from a specific situation that reveals a lot about contemporary Brazil: a people’s demonstration that called attention to the enormous gap between the demands of Brazilian citizens and the actions of their politicians. The principal complaints had to do with abusive government spending and useless construction projects related to the World Cup in 2014. I wanted to extract from that situation a story about love and conflicted ambitions. A little bit of violence too. But the tension in the story is mostly psychological.
McSWEENEY’S: We asked you for a story set in Brazil. How much did you think about that, as you were working on this? Do you think a story like this can tell us something about a particular place, or a particular country?
CAROL BENSIMON: I believe all stories have to say something about a particular place. More precisely, those are the kind of stories that I like to read the most, and the only kind I feel like writing. Stories that can take place anywhere never make too much sense to me; the place shapes the story. So yes, I thought a lot about Brazil and my hometown while I was writing this piece. I wanted to recreate, in my own way, the atmosphere of downtown Porto Alegre during the demonstrations of June 2013. The rest of the country sometimes forgets that the larger movement started right here in Porto Alegre, before June, with the protests against the increase of bus fares.
McSWEENEY’S: Is there a Brazilian author, or a particular Brazilian book, or even a movie or a TV show, that you think takes on the genre particularly well?
CAROL BENSIMON: This may sound bizarre, but we don´t have a great tradition of crime literature here. Brazilian readers are not as crazy about crime fiction as, say, the Scandinavians. Maybe in societies such as ours, where crime is a part of everyday life across all social strata, fiction that focuses on that subject is just less interesting. On the other hand, the nationwide success of a movie like Elite Squad probably undermines my thesis.
McSWEENEY’S: There’s a funny twist in your story—where many of our other pieces focus on a particular bad actor, your protagonist is an architecture student who believes that “the car is the great villain of the decade.” He’s preoccupied by the damage being done to his whole city. Can you talk a bit about that?
CAROL BENSIMON: In February 2013, I joined the demonstrations against the duplication of an avenue, and the resulting removal of dozens of trees in the harbor area of Porto Alegre. This was one of those traffic development projects justified by the upcoming World Cup. Almost at the same time, protests against the increase in bus fares started to break out. Something was clearly in the air: there were a lot of young people demanding improvements in public spaces and organizing “occupations” via Facebook. But not everything among the protesters was peaceful and harmonious—on the contrary. There were different interests, different methods and ideologies involved, and a strong desire for confrontation. Anarchists. Supporters of political parties. Intellectuals. Ecologists. Students. Politicians. The military police. Neonazis. Bicycle activists. LGBT militants. Undercover cops. Hippies (or what we call hippies theses days, at least in Latin America). I thought this mix was worth exploring in fiction. I know, the main character is a nice kid, and this goes against the rules of a crime story (or at least against the rules of noir). But the police are vile. The politicians are vile. And even idealists can be vile now and then.
McSWEENEY’S: Much of this story transpires at a protest in Porto Alegre. During the past several months, in the lead-up to the World Cup, there have been protests throughout Brazil—where do you think that movement is headed?
CAROL BENSIMON: The sense that great changes are afoot has disappeared. Slowly, things settled and returned to a normal state. The demonstrations themselves lost their massive appeal as they became increasingly violent: both on the part of the police and on the part of the demonstrators. The majority of folks that were against vandalism stopped showing up. In several weeks we´ll have the World Cup and it’s hard to predict what will happen. Protests will take place, no doubt, and those in power have already taken preventive measures. But even though the hashtag #nãovaitercopa (#therewillbenoworldcup) is used a lot, I don’t believe we´ll see a mobilization as big as last year’s.