A slim but elegantly carved look into the inner life of an orphaned child.
An abrupt and ambiguous ending dents but fails to spoil this experimental novella by Italian writer Mander (A Catalogue of Goodbyes, 2010, etc.). The story is narrated by Luca, a young boy of indeterminate age who is forced to grow up in a matter of weeks. He’s smart enough to know that the string of “fathers” that his mama trots through the house are only there for sex, and he’s thoughtful about things, if a fair bit foulmouthed in the vein of Holden Caulfield. However, he isn’t smart enough to know what to do when his mother dies in the middle of the night at the age of 36. In his traumatized imagination, he can’t decide if his mother is an angel or will become a zombie or will rise in three days like Jesus Christ. Instead of letting an adult know, Luca leaves her dead body in bed and starts foraging for himself and his cat, Blue. Mander captures the childlike attitude and voice very well, as Luca struggles to make sense of what has transpired. “You put things in a row and make a story of it,” Luca says. “Stories put things in their places. Then you’re more relaxed. The stories you invent are your personal lullabies. Even when they’re horrible, they don’t scare you anymore because you’re the one who invented them. That’s what this is too. This story is only a secret I told myself to see if I’m able to keep a really secret secret.” His motivations and actions are easy to understand from the start; when Luca refers to himself as a “half-orphan,” it’s clear that he is not only close to his mother, but terrified of being left alone.
An interesting protagonist makes this worth a look, but the novel doesn’t so much end as stop.