Anselmi anchors the psychological inquiry in the bildungsroman, capturing Bennett’s chatty camaraderie with other students, his growing out of his illusions, and a pair of sexual encounters, one inconclusive and one not—and both laden with symbols connected to the story of his mother. The crisp, often lyric prose (in Rome, at the Forum, Edward “[relishes] its hues of conquest and faith”) tells the story with swiftness and power while always suggesting deeper meanings. While the themes and structure echo Faulkner, with urgent family secrets revealed to a young man over full chapters, Anselmi’s touch is light and inviting.
Occasional perspective shifts inside diminish the novel’s urgent focus, and early passages detailing Bennett’s relationships outside the family are so engaging that readers will likely be frustrated at those characters’ later absence. Marie’s tale of a childhood in a village occupied by the Nazis is harrowing but told with sensitivity. A final section, faintly reminiscent of Nabakov’s Pnin, finds a new character analyzing the novel itself through the lens of psychoanalysis, a revealing choice that highlights everything singular about Anselmi’s approach: Here’s rich, resonant fiction written with a welcome sense of play.
Takeaway: This lyric, incisive novel finds a young man discovering his immigrant mother’s harrowing past.
Great for fans of: Nino Ricci’s Where She Has Gone, Tina De Rosa’s Paper Fish.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: A-