In Mancini’s (Tracce 24, 2014, etc.) novel, a group of Italians in the late 1990s deal with problems involving civil engineering and violence that has roots in Mussolini’s dictatorship.
In this work set in 1997, several Italians’ lives intersect and diverge, soap-opera style. They include Manuele De Mari, an architect who vividly remembers his young cousin’s drowning on a trip to the beach 30 years earlier; Umberto Cassini, a toy salesman who suffers from road rage; Deborah, a disgruntled factory worker who finds herself romantically involved with one man after another; Davide Giorgi, an engineer who’s determined to fix an old water tower built during the years of Fascist rule; and other characters, including a shadowy killer whom Manuele eventually traces to the home of an old man, a disillusioned athlete and architect who created futuristic structures for Mussolini. Manuele also discovers that someone close to him was one of the killer’s victims. Overall, the prose is choppy, full of single-sentence paragraphs and awkward phrasing (“Manuele noticed the anomalous throng of people on the shore”). The omniscient third-person narrator is a hypermasculine stereotype who notes the make of every car (“a dark four-door BMW with a hatchback, a Mercedes Station Wagon, a sparkling metallized Audi A3 with radial tires”). The book presents infidelity as default behavior, and female characters almost entirely through a sexualized lens. The plot is complex, and many of the book’s characters have promise. However, their compelling qualities are obscured by the narrator’s interests. The book does address a lesser-known element of Italy’s Fascist history, with its focus on architecture, engineering, and public health. However, it does so through a meandering story that subordinates its thrillerlike elements to the sex lives of its characters.
A complicated but unsatisfying story about vicious murders and the overlapping lives of frustrated people.