History: Published in 2004.
Plot: Filtered through the thoughts and memories of Timoteo, a distant husband and disciplined surgeon, the story chronicles the mental landscape of a man who clings to the hope that his daughter, Angela, will pull through after a serious scooter accident leaves with a subdural hematoma, straddling the tightrope between life and death. Timoteo's helplessness in the situation, his inability to play God and suture her wounds, leaves him in desperation. While the surgical team operates on Angela's brain, he mentally composes a letter of confession and remorse that exposes his failures in matters of the heart and chronicles the love that could have redeemed him.
Through this confession, Timoteo maps his life's coordinates: first distant and cold, marking the growing emotional chasm with his wife, the career headed down the road to success, and the swift advancement to esteemed surgeon at the hospital. But when he meets Italia, an unlikely mistress who with her "peroxided blond hair, her painted face, and her multicolored bag,... looked like a clown left behind by the circus," the floodgate to his passion and desire opens and overcomes him in an outburst of carnality. The coordinates of this hidden life, simultaneously erotic and repulsive, converge in an unexpected manner. Upon their first meeting, Italia invites him into her apartment while he waits for his car's repair, and he rapes her. While disturbing, it's not half as twisted as how the rape then transforms into to a love affair between the two.
Despite Timoteo's egregious machismo, the way he ravishes Italia and uses her ugly, downtrodden body for gratification, their many erotic encounters provoke and pleasure (in spite of the translation's repetitive and awkward reference to her "sex" and his "member"). Still, it's difficult to stomach or believe the range of emotions Timoteo feels for this woman who he abuses, who he manipulates, and who disgusts him, but also who he loves and ultimately yearns for. In retrospect, he regrets this self-absorption, the animal instinct that prompts him to place his pregnant wife in a cab and then pursue Italia down the street, so they can have sex, in an alley, in the pouring rain. But he also excuses it as love, a primitive bond without rational explanation. He finds her physically repulsive, and often refers to her by the pet name "Crabgrass," yet he open himself to her in a way he never has before. It's actually Italia's ungainliness, her troubled heart, and her willingness to follow him like a dog -- from hotel room to hotel room on his business travel -- that allows him to feel safe in his growing affection.
Review: What is one supposed to make of the violation of Italia's body, when in the end Timoteo professes his love for her? Perhaps part can be attributed to a difference in gender roles in Italy -- the setting of the novel and the author's country of residence -- that the women are emotional and submissive and that the men are distant and controlling. But even then, Timoteo's voice comes off as so pointedly sexual, calculating, and remorseless, at least during the course of the affair, that one questions if Mazzantini tries too hard a to paint Timoteo as a self-absorbed, sexualized male. And yet these excesses have left him empty, a progenitor of disharmonious relationships, and ultimately, "a plague-spreader, a man who marks others for misfortune, carelessly including those who love him."
Opening Line: “You ran the stop sign.”
Closing Line: “She’s the last woman in this story.”
Quotes: "nothing can save us from ourselves, and … indulgence is a fruit that's already decayed when it falls to the ground."