25 July 17 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews section is a piece by Vincent Francone on Class by Francesco Pacifico, out from by Melville House.

Here’s the beginning of Vince’s review:

The thing about Class is that I don’t know what the hell to think about it, yet I can’t stop thinking about it. I’ll begin by dispensing with the usual info that one may want to know when considering adding the book to their “to read” list. Written by Francesco Pacifico. Translated by Francesco Pacifico. Published by Melville House. Set in Rome and New York. Specific Roman neighborhood of note: Pigneto. New York neighborhood of note: Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Does that matter? Apparently, yes.

And this is perhaps my way into Class (that was fun to type). Understanding a neighborhood and its denizens is key to understanding what an author like Pacifico may be up to in a book as odd as Class. Williamsburg in Class is the nexus of Italian hipsters. They meet, take drugs, laugh, fuck, grow weary, leave, return. It’s the sort of place that bohemians with varying degrees of talent flock to, bringing the first wave of gentrification. First wave gentrifiers often bemoan their cherished neighborhoods’ shift into commercial areas where moms push doublewide strollers into Lululemon. While they fail to see their role in the gentrification process, readers of their exploits are, allegedly, in on the secret. Dramatic irony notwithstanding, Class doesn’t seem concerned with judging the hipsters, even when they get up to some questionable activities. The reader is supposed to suspend that sort of moralizing. If that is impossible, the reader is screwed. Abandon the text ye who need redeeming characters.


For the rest of the review, go here.

25 July 17 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

The thing about Class is that I don’t know what the hell to think about it, yet I can’t stop thinking about it. I’ll begin by dispensing with the usual info that one may want to know when considering adding the book to their “to read” list. Written by Francesco Pacifico. Translated by Francesco Pacifico. Published by Melville House. Set in Rome and New York. Specific Roman neighborhood of note: Pigneto. New York neighborhood of note: Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Does that matter? Apparently, yes.

And this is perhaps my way into Class (that was fun to type). Understanding a neighborhood and its denizens is key to understanding what an author like Pacifico may be up to in a book as odd as Class. Williamsburg in Class is the nexus of Italian hipsters. They meet, take drugs, laugh, fuck, grow weary, leave, return. It’s the sort of place that bohemians with varying degrees of talent flock to, bringing the first wave of gentrification. First wave gentrifiers often bemoan their cherished neighborhoods’ shift into commercial areas where moms push doublewide strollers into Lululemon. While they fail to see their role in the gentrification process, readers of their exploits are, allegedly, in on the secret. Dramatic irony notwithstanding, Class doesn’t seem concerned with judging the hipsters, even when they get up to some questionable activities. The reader is supposed to suspend that sort of moralizing. If that is impossible, the reader is screwed. Abandon the text ye who need redeeming characters.

Recently, Pacifico stated that the “problem with American books is that there must always be something moral and sympathetic happening between characters.” He may be onto something there, and I must admit that it’s refreshing to read a novel where manufactured sympathy is chucked. Nevertheless, Class confirmed my suspicion that the shallowness of hipsters is universal. That the Italians in Class are so informed by American culture, that they travel across the Atlantic to the hipster mecca of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, suggests a larger point about cultural hegemony, though I don’t feel comfortable forcing such an argument on Pacifico’s book.

But let’s look at this for a moment. One of the characters, Lorenzo, is a would-be filmmaker whose sole effort is a pretentious short film that bites off Tarantino, the Coen Brothers, and scores of other hip influences. Another character, Marcello, is an aspiring rapper emulating American MCs. The one American we meet is James Murphy, a novelist in the vein of Franzen and Wallace, though his name is, of course, the same as the frontman of LCD Soundsystem, as hipster a band as one can find. Murphy’s work is criticized by the main narrator (more on that in a minute) and later, when the reader gets a peek into his notes, one gets the impression that Murphy is an aging hipster coasting off marginal talent. Oddly, the superficiality of these characters is what made me want to keep reading Class, even when they infuriated me. If they are products of a self-emulating culture that has now exported its cool shallowness, then great—Pacifico has made a grand statement. If not, if my reading is wrong (likely), then I’ll revert to the old reader-response cop-out and call it a day. In short: looking for one simple moral or overarching argument in Class is probably silly. But, American reader that I am, I looked anyway.

The narrator? For most of the book it’s Daria: Marxist sometime lover of Nicolino, the playboy of the group. Daria oversees events via the time-honored tradition of omniscient narrator, though quite literally: she sees into people’s thoughts. There are times when she can’t and has to make do providing half a conversation, pointing directly to the absurdity of fixed narration in fiction. Shortly after we’re finally introduced to her—well into the book—she leaves us, the narration taken over by another character before shifting again in a sort of montage. All of this occurs without warning and would be baffling were Pacifico not in possession of a deft hand. This unfixed narration is perhaps my favorite aspect of Class. I prefer it to a novel that feels slavishly devoted to presenting a reliable narrator.

Formal ambition helps this book, and the documentary that results is presented without overt sermonizing. Class may be a social commentary, a weirdly funny look at Italian hipsters, or a larger statement on cultural influence. The kaleidoscope of characters, whose actions and drives are never one-dimensional, eludes easy classification, which makes the entire book a joy. I found myself both rooting for these individuals and delighting in their ruin. Few books can get me to do that. But few books dare go where Class goes. The result is a shaggy, far-reaching, occasionally exasperating, consistently engaging book that is happier leaving an impression than making a grand statement. It’s a testimony to the possibilities of the contemporary novel.

22 January 13 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews Section is a piece by Vincent Francone on the forthcoming novel The Story of My Purity, written by Francesco Pacifico, translated from the Italian by Stephen Twilley, and published by FSG.

The Story of My Purity is the first of Pacifico’s books to make its way into English. He’s also the author of Il caso Vittorio, 2005 Dopo Cristo (which he co-wrote as part of the Babette Factory_, and the wildly titled San Valentino. Come il marketing e la poesia hanno stravolto l’amore in Occidente, which Google helpfully translates as Valentine’s Day. Such as marketing and poetry have distorted the love in the West.

Here’s a bit of Vince’s review of The Story of My Purity:

The blurbs call it a comic novel in the tradition of Italo Svevo, and indeed echoes of Svevo are evident, as are echoes of Pirandello and Aldo Busi. Like these writers, Pacifico fixates on the Italian soul, tortured by Catholicism and lascivious desires. The hero of the book, Piero Rosini, is a pious husband in a sexless marriage, an editor for an ultra-conservative Catholic publishing house, and a former bohemian bent on maintaining his chastity even as he fantasizes about his sister-in-law’s breasts. His staid life is uprooted by the image of his sister-in-law dancing to Elvis, a seemingly innocent gesture that opens up buried desires. These desires lead him to abandon his life in favor of a libertine existence that his lingering faith will never allow him to enjoy.

Pacifico balances the frustrations of his protagonist with a collection of characters that range from anti-Semitic coworkers obsessed with a book revealing the Jewish origins of Pope John Paul II, a father who dismisses his son’s piety, and a gaggle of liberated females who challenge Piero’s resolve. The turns along Piero’s road take him deeper into the life of the sophisticated European libertine, yet each step forward is matched by a step back. As he journeys slightly closer to the precipice of sin, Piero creates an alter ego with which to live out his fantasies, though, as always, the foundation of religious faith proves unshakable.

As funny as all this is, and as much as the reader roots for the protagonist, Piero is not exactly a sympathetic character. Lacking true depth, he waltzes through people’s lives making promises he cannot keep. Early in the novel, Piero befriends an ambitious writer by promising publication that he is well aware will never come. Why lie to this poor sap? Well, because he represents something: the release of Piero’s obligations, a rebellion against the confines of his job, marriage, and religion. But Piero’s exodus out of his devout lifestyle is more like a tourist wandering through preapproved landmarks. In the end, the casual man about town is as trapped as ever, unaware of the events his meanderings have created.

Click here to read the full piece.

22 January 13 | Chad W. Post | Comments

I have long lamented the lack of literature translated from Italy, the country of my grandparents. The span between Dante and Umberto Eco is wide, populated with fine writers, though it seems few of them get translated, much less read. Thus, it was with great interest that I approached Francesco Pacifico’s novel, The Story of My Purity.

The blurbs call it a comic novel in the tradition of Italo Svevo, and indeed echoes of Svevo are evident, as are echoes of Pirandello and Aldo Busi. Like these writers, Pacifico fixates on the Italian soul, tortured by Catholicism and lascivious desires. The hero of the book, Piero Rosini, is a pious husband in a sexless marriage, an editor for an ultra-conservative Catholic publishing house, and a former bohemian bent on maintaining his chastity even as he fantasizes about his sister-in-law’s breasts. His staid life is uprooted by the image of his sister-in-law dancing to Elvis, a seemingly innocent gesture that opens up buried desires. These desires lead him to abandon his life in favor of a libertine existence that his lingering faith will never allow him to enjoy.

Pacifico balances the frustrations of his protagonist with a collection of characters that range from anti-Semitic coworkers obsessed with a book revealing the Jewish origins of Pope John Paul II, a father who dismisses his son’s piety, and a gaggle of liberated females who challenge Piero’s resolve. The turns along Piero’s road take him deeper into the life of the sophisticated European libertine, yet each step forward is matched by a step back. As he journeys slightly closer to the precipice of sin, Piero creates an alter ego with which to live out his fantasies, though, as always, the foundation of religious faith proves unshakable.

As funny as all this is, and as much as the reader roots for the protagonist, Piero is not exactly a sympathetic character. Lacking true depth, he waltzes through people’s lives making promises he cannot keep. Early in the novel, Piero befriends an ambitious writer by promising publication that he is well aware will never come. Why lie to this poor sap? Well, because he represents something: the release of Piero’s obligations, a rebellion against the confines of his job, marriage, and religion. But Piero’s exodus out of his devout lifestyle is more like a tourist wandering through preapproved landmarks. In the end, the casual man about town is as trapped as ever, unaware of the events his meanderings have created.

Pacifico does a good job creating a character that is devious, charming, and frustrating. The reader wants to scream at him through laughter. There are moments of joyful hilarity, interesting metaphors, and some damn fine writing over all. But behind it boils a tension that is impossible to ignore and the sense that the whole book will fall apart. That it doesn’t is worth noting; Pacifico is a skilled writer who reigns in the story just as Piero, intentionally or not, reigns in his desires, just when they seem about to explode. The final result will surely frustrate some readers (it’s a bit anti-climatic, though, considering Piero’s behavior, this is fitting), but the portrait of the devout Catholic, torn between lust and a religious dogma impossible to exercise from the soul, is fascinating.

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