Punk-rock desperadoes and a daft father-son tragicomedy team run riot through the mess and splendor of today’s Italy.
Bang! Propulsive from the first page, this latest from Ammaniti (I’ll Steal You Away, 2007, etc.) is stunningly, disturbingly entertaining adrenaline fiction. Teenaged Cristiano, hyper-vigilant and insecure, wakes to his father brandishing a pistol. Rino’s a rager—ropey, tattooed deltoids; cold beers in his pockets—and he’s got a mission for junior. Kill a dog. Barking awake all of snowbound Varrano, the factory owner’s mutt is Rino’s current target, along with Jews, blacks, the rich, TV stars and the village’s jailbait, whom he regularly despoils and discards. Like a crazed commando-puppet, Cristiano does dad’s bidding, leaving “a red hole among the black hairs” of the poor mongrel. Then he plunges into picaresque adventures with dad’s crew: Quattro Formaggi (named after the pizza), who barely survived electrocution in a fishing accident (!), and Danilo Aprea, flashing bling and hair “dyed mahogany red.” It’s Danilo’s brainstorm to shanghai an ATM machine, capstone caper of these goons’ thug life. The botched heist is the book’s backbone, but its glorious and greasy flesh is a speed-of-light montage of family-and-friend dysfunction: Rino screaming “kiss your God” at Cristiano; Danilo’s wife choking to death, “the cap from a bottle of shampoo stuck in her windpipe”; Cristiano nearly killing a rich kid who had the temerity to score with Fabiana and Esmeralda, Cristiano’s mental pinups and the town’s shoplifting supersluts; Cristiano, for a perfunctory school assignment, penning a harrowing skinhead screed (“we can be a great pure nation again”). Ammaniti relentlessly creates a poetics of perversity, an anthem of anger for working-class Italy: bollixed and laid-off by Internet modernity, appalled and titillated by the omnipresence of Britney Spears, fearful of the crash of Italy’s currency, the corruption of politicians and the onslaught of immigrants.
Not at all pretty, but darkly, ferociously beautiful—a triumph for Europe’s hottest novelist.