Pellizzari’s debut novella tells a young man’s story of idealism, passion, and loss, toggling between 2003 and 2012, as well as between Andalusia and America.
The story opens with a young man named Chris, seeing an Illinois doctor to get a prescription for Ambien. He’s a wreck who can’t sleep and has panic attacks. But it wasn’t always this way. Nine years before, when he was a junior at the University of Illinois, he spent his spring semester in Granada, overwhelmed by the romance of it and his passion for the Spanish poet and playwright Federico García Lorca’s works—and for a young woman named Vera, a precocious sophomore in the same program. Now, in 2012, he takes three Ambien pills and tries to sleep, and the remainder of the novella takes place in a liminal space in which he confronts his dreams and his demons, his memories and his present dismal reality. Chris has been fired from his dead-end job and lives alone, fighting his anxieties, and trying to make sense of his past and salvage some sort of future. However, what once promised to be everlasting love between the two young people is over; Vera is a now a matron with three kids and a cloddish husband in another Chicago suburb.
Pellizzari shares Chris’ first name, he lives in Chicago, and he once attended the University of Illinois, as his character does. Whether the author actually went to Spain for an idyllic semester or fell in love with a woman named Vera isn’t stated in the novel; what is real, or at least fully realized in these pages, is the protagonist’s fervor over García Lorca, and the surreal, poetic way in which Pellizzari tells the story is very effective indeed. Ghosts almost overwhelm this tale—not just that of the Spanish poet, but of all those others who perished in the Spanish Civil War, famously captured by Pablo Picasso’s painting Guernica. To call this novella elegiac is an understatement, and those who love García Lorca—who was assassinated in 1936 at the age of 38—will be moved by the love that Pellizzari shares here. Still, readers would do well to get up to speed on the Spanish Civil War, García Lorca’s life, and the concept of “El Duende” before reading this work. On another level, the story of Chris and Vera is a very old and wry one—a tale of the exotic and romantic versus the mundane and realistic. The passionate love in Granada, as depicted here, seems fated to end as it did in Illinois. Such love hurts, then it passes, and soon we’re middle-aged and wiser, as Chris learns—pining for a ghost that won’t come back again. Fortunately, Pellizzari has the good sense to tamp this emotion down somewhat in his prose, which is poetic but controlled—and all the more successful for its restraint.
A surreal performance that’s worth a read, particularly as a reflection of a historically important time and place.