Your wife dies suddenly. You’re left with your little girl. Now what? The Italian Veronesi (The Force of the Past, 2003, etc.) explores a widower’s eccentric behavior in his prize-winning eighth novel, later an art-house movie.
It was a roller-coaster day for Pietro Paladini, surfing off the Italian coast with his brother Carlo. Everything was cool until they saw two women drowning. They rescued them, heroically. But when Pietro returned to his beach house he found Lara, his common-law wife, dead from an aneurysm witnessed by their 10-year-old, Claudia. Pietro is a middle-aged, affluent executive with a cable-TV channel in Milan. He feels numb rather than overwhelmed by grief; Claudia mimics his reaction. On her first day of school, he promises to wait in his car until the end of her day, and this day-long wait becomes a months-long vigil as Pietro tamps down the “quiet chaos” of his emotions. He has no incentive to return to work. Facing their company’s merger, his co-workers and bosses are fearful in this new dog-eat-dog world. One by one, they visit Pietro, an attentive, calming presence. They range from the distraught head of HR, leaving for Africa, to the megalomaniac architects of the merger, locked in their own death-struggle. Even his kooky sister-in-law Marta gets into the act. These visits, or vignettes, form the bulk of the novel. They’re lively, but it’s frustrating that Pietro’s character is not developed, and his long relationship with Lara remains a blank. The only scene showing Pietro in action happens back at the beach house, where he has rough, risk-taking sex in the yard with the woman he saved from drowning, while Claudia sleeps inside. It’s a brave attempt to shake up the routine, but it doesn’t quite work; it’s the small, everyday occurrences that are the most telling.
Veronesi’s point, that Pietro is no crazier than anybody else in a world that has lost its bearings, is made sympathetically but at too great length.