Fall in book
Text Gian Paolo Serino
Harper, 526 pages
This is undoubtedly the best American novel translated in Italy in 2017. It is not the most surprising (but the new 4321 is, just published by Einaudi, which sees the return of the early Auster, author of The New York Trilogy, The music of chance and Leviathan), it is not the most successful as a metaphor (but The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead is, just published by Edizioni Sur, not a metaphor on racism towards Afro-Americans, as stated by many but on the genocide of native Indians, just read it to catch this aspect): without a doubt, the best novel written this year is Moonglow. A hypnotic, magnetic prose that holds the reader to ransom since the very first line to get him into a world which is not fantastic like the one from The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay or which does not feature the too-emphasized Dickensian atmospheres of Telegraph Avenue, as this book completely detaches from American contemporary literature. It is distant from being a software like Jonathan Franzen, distant from Foer’s haughtiness, even distant from Thomas Pynchon (to which it was often compared) and from any of its contemporaries. Chabon gets back to the splendours of The mysteries of Pittsburgh, but he does it with more maturity: less ingenuous though he keeps the same pureness, he tells about a world, bombarded with information, it finds in the memory the best place to experience its fantasies. The first-person narrator corresponding to the writer Michael Chabon, we read the history of his grandfather, a figure that is absurdly compared in Italy with Barney or Lebowski, though he has nothing to share with them. Actually, as Chabon writes, he is inspired by the figure of his uncle and partially by his deceased paternal grandfather, by now unconscious and disrespectful under the effect of sedatives. The result is a character through whom we read the history of the United States and we never understand if they are the metaphor progress or a navigation error.
But this is also the story of things that are told, those that are censored, compromises, or even the way some stories are never got through, and two persons could get to the grave in two different ways of telling the same fact.
Initially, Chabon thought about writing a sequel of Telegraph Avenue, issued in 2012, set in more or less contemporary Oakland. But when he took up writing, all that came to his mind concerned his family and its affairs: like when his uncle lost his job as a sales representative because the manager of the company he worked for had to assign the job to a family friend, the communist spy Alger Hiss.
This is the kind of story loved by Chabon, especially in a moment when this huge period of pop-cultural history intersects with personal matters. Because Moonglow narrates the intense love story of his grandparents which clashes with the trauma of the Holocaust, the devastation of Europe and the foolish race for science conceived as a weapon of destruction. Chabon has also grown up amidst the darkness of the ‘Cold War’ in which Marvel’s heroes fought their way, like TV programs, against the ‘red scare’. There is a strong repercussion of those atmospheres and it is not by chance if the novel has been entitled Moonglow: as if Chabon had forgot about that race towards space that from the 50s until moon landing, a “Moon for dreaming” became a “Moon to be conquered”, trying to save what remains of the American dream, already buried under the shadows of moral ruins that have led us to a future present completely ‘remote’ (with a double meaning of ‘past’ and ‘remote control’). This novel especially describes – without distancing the reader through style contortions typical of Thomas Pynchon and at the same time without resulting freakish like Pynchon of Vice, – today’s world where ‘they help you to swim in it without sinking. They help you to float over the depths of a world where we would not be if only we tried to understand it. Now. In this instant.’ Reading these words over water, that are mine, but already at the bookshop (or at the library) perhaps reading Moonglow.
Jean-Baptiste Del Amo
Gallimard, 408 pages
We humans are just an ‘animal kingdom’. Beyond the habitual and harmless animalist denunciation (to clarify, we refer to Jonathan Safran Foer from the bestseller Eating animals), Jean-Baptiste Del Amo with Règne Animal (Animal Kingdom) – a novel that has reached the final of the Prix Goncourt, Prix Medicìs, Prix Femina and winner of the Prix du Livre International – tells about the ‘evolution’ of a family of farmers from the end of the Nineteenth Century to the end of the Twentieth Century. These characters remain etched in memory, even after having read the book, that we hardly cast aside as if they were the odours described by Patrick Süskind in Perfume or like Jean Jacques Annaud’s movie images. While reading Règne Animal it seems to be close to the ‘dim light of a fireplace’: but that flame is just an illusion, because the warmth does not warm us but it burns us inside. With this family of ‘pigs’ farmers’ we can re-experience all our beastliness: already immersed to the neck in the mud of economic profit, we create an Apocalypse but we do not see that we are already living in it. Beyond the plot– which has the same power of The Lives of Animals by Coetzee, a masterpiece issued by Adelphi in Italy – we are struck by the writing. In France, the most eminent comparisons have been made since, despite his young age – he’s thirty-five and his written his third novel, Del Amo’s prose is extremely accurate, almost hypnotic within the violence of De Sade’ style language. This violence is evident when we just read the word ‘begetter’ instead of ‘mother’, marked by a poetic tension that reminds the lost Francois Villon of ‘ballads’ and with a frequently telegraphic style just like Agota Kristof in the Trilogy of the City of K. and Jonathan Littell in The Kindly Ones. And yet the writer is able to keep his authenticity intact by letting us reliving ‘family domestic scenes that take place in the dim light of a fireplace’, though in modern times but through almost medieval atmospheres. Because that evil we let out thus destroying ourselves day by day just arises from the family (whose Latin derivation comes from ‘servulus’: ‘being a servant’, we shall never forget this). Because it seems the message Del Amo wishes to send us: we don’t have to eat only vegetables or being animalists for a better world if then we take out our cruelty when we say our daily miserable rosary made of limitless wiles and superb ambitions. The real family – hence, we – can be the cradle of the only right solution to avoid a catastrophe. The one described in Règne Animal is the one we experience every day through our mask of appearances, muffled and seemingly minimal violence. At least for one day, put this book on your dish instead of a steak. So to speak: at least to understand the healthy taste of a masterpiece.
Since we fell
Little, Brown, 412 pages
Dennis Lehane is considered the real king of thriller. Usually, I do not deal with this narrative genre, when it is not literature. Dennis Lehane is. This is proven also by this new novel. Author of masterpieces often adapted for the big screen like Mystic River (directed by Clint Eastwood, two Oscar awards to Sean Penn and Tim Robbins) and Shutter Island (with Leonardo Di Caprio, directed by Martin Scorsese), rather than being a ‘thriller writer’, Lehane is among the authors who have told about our fears at best (without turning to Stephen King’s obsessive-compulsive obsessions) like in this novel whose title, Since we fell, describes us a world. We are that world. A world which is more and more focused on the Internet, and which is getting smaller and smaller for all. A small world getting more and more private to be protected, to be hidden. Through the events experienced by the protagonist, a woman torn by a deprived childhood, daughter of a successful writer and of a mysterious father, Lehane tells about topics like trust, love, family, marriage, fear of darkness – not only from our past. The style is very close to Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope and it meets James Ellroy’s The Black Dahlia, performing a quick writing as to resemble a TV ‘serial crime’, the same style of The Wire or Boardwalk Empire (which he was the screenwriter of many episodes not by chance) Lehane gives us his best novel. The most literary one. Since its prologue, in which he tells us that narrative is getting closer to ‘foolishness for adolescence sensitivity’ with the excuse of the mother of the protagonist who is a writer. And already on the second page he writes: her mother, never happy, grew even more bitter with success. (…) Her mother, brilliant at analyzing the problems of strangers, never had a clue how to diagnose herself. So she spent her life in search of solutions to problems that were born, raised, lived, and died within the boundaries of her own marrow. This is what the most of us do every day, isn’t this? Since we fell is the ink mirror that every reader should read to find (again) himself, that ego we often lose to think about the others – children, parents, friends– rather than investigating ourselves.
Little, Brown and Company, 292 pages
Definitely, Edith Pearlman became famous late, at the age of 74, in 2011, when she was among the five finalists for the National Book Award with the collected stories of Binocular Vision. Now in book shops, published by Bompiani, with a new and undoubtedly better anthology of ‘short stories’ of which the American writer is an undisputed master, as to be compared to experts like Alice Munro and John Cheever.
Born in Rhode Island in 1936 from a couple of Jew immigrates of Eastern Europe, also in this Honeydew her stories are full of unsaid things, they are never common, however shrouded in curios, unexpected or difficult situations faced by the protagonists who are generally sophisticated, well-educated, rich, high-principled, inhabitants of Godolphin, an (imaginary) suburb of Boston: unexpected situations which are imperceptibly invaded by a surprising emotion. These stories establish a peculiar relationship between the writer and the reader, they nearly become accomplices, understanding since the very first pages that the truth has really nothing to do with what can be seen with the eyes. Edith Pearlman describes and celebrate ordinary people with a unique sensitivity: nurses, professors of small universities, elderly people at the hospice, couples of lovers. Each one is distinguished by a drop of splendour, by that touch that enables to see and taste life by giving the real value also to details which we too often take for granted. She is a realist writer and like Raymond Carver, she gets to the core of things, but unlike Carver her stories are not marked by melancholy that takes you over and doesn’t let you go (for instance, The bath, one of the best and at the same time saddest stories ever written in the Twentieth Century). In this Honeydew there is always a thread, sometimes it is fine and sometimes it is thicker as to create a structure of human hope and hidden virtues.
Romanticism is a constant presence: almost unripe, green as it appears, and yet so sweet inside, as implied also by the title Honeydew. Twenty stories that, starting from the cruellest realism deliver pages featuring optimism which never touch magic realism, but above all they teach us to try to see beyond the surface of events. If we go beyond, we will find something. Even that happiness which sometimes seems to be fleeting.