THE VIRGIN KNOWS by Christine Palamidessi Moore


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A mytho-comic first novel that self-consciously imitates Latin American magical realism. Which also explains the odd diction: This clever, mostly delightful American fiction reads as if it were translated from another language. But that's in keeping with the narrative voice, which belongs to Alicia Barzini, an Italian from Subiaco who spends most of her life tending her parents while her twin brother, Carlo, pursues his fortune in America. After her parents die, and Alicia develops into a crack surgical nurse, she monitors her brother's life abroad with her mystic ability to ""tune in"" visions of him, witnessing from afar his material success in Boston's North End; his sexual adventures with the liberated Jassy; and that couple's communal life with Jassy's best friend, Virginia, and her family. Alicia's first trip to America ends poorly; she's shocked by the sexual mores and senses her own much-cherished purity under attack. Back in Italy, she lives as a recluse, embarrassed by her big nose and ungainly demeanor, but fiercely proud of her maidenhead. At one point, her virginity even takes on life, imploring her to return to her brother's aid in Boston, where things have taken a turn for the worse. One of Carlo's many prosperous businesses, mainly run by the now-missing Virginia, involves smuggling stolen religious art back to Italy, an activity suspended in Virginia's absence. The ""Benevolents,"" a secret society fanatically dedicated to the Virgin and her representation in artworks, conspire with the Vatican and kidnap Carlo's loved ones until he resumes the shipments abroad. When Jassy is inadvertently killed, Alicia also realizes the larger costs of her otherwise honorable virginity. Moore neatly dissects the core myths of Italian peasant Catholic culture, which she neither romanticizes nor condemns out of hand. Her serious willingness to entertain such arcane notions allows her to achieve the high comic effects of this clever debut.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0982638302
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Wyatt/St. Martin's