HEAD ABOVE WATER by Stefano Bortolussi


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Middle-aged writer awkwardly attempts to make peace with his past—and grow up while he’s at it.

Riccardo (“Cardo”) Mariano has a knack for falling in love with women during shipwrecks. A novelist from Milan, Cardo met Solveig (“Sol”) in a coastal town in Norway when she accidentally sank his dinghy by ramming it with her father’s fishing boat. It wasn’t the best introduction imaginable, but it worked: Sol eventually became Cardo’s lover, moved to Italy with him, and became pregnant with his child. Before the baby was born, however, Cardo made the mistake of coming to the aid of Cate, a young woman whose kayak had run aground off a tiny island near his rowing club. As he struggled to extricate her craft, both Cate and Cardo fell overboard—and into each other’s arms. Guilt-ridden, Cardo later confessed his adultery to Sol, who promptly packed up and returned to Norway to have the baby on her own. Alone and out of sorts, Cardo began to look over the mess he had made of his life. The son of a Milanese businessman who abandoned the family after the death of Cardo’s younger brother Michele, Cardo had grown up in the 1970s and was a true son of his age: He was nihilistic, angry, and self-indulgent. Deeply involved in the various Marxist sects that dominated Italy in the post-Vietnam years, Cardo had never really had any strong political convictions and he dropped his involvements eventually as easily as he dropped most of his girlfriends. Now he began to see that his rootlessness had something to do with the death of Michele, and his attempts to sort out his feelings toward his dead brother serve to clarify his longings for Sol and their child. Before long, he makes another trip to Norway.

Very deftly handled: Italian poet Bortolussi’s debut has a light touch that keeps Cardo from taking himself too seriously—and thereby keeps all of this from veering into a swamp of sentimentality and self-absorption.

Pub Date: Nov. 15th, 2003
ISBN: 0-87286-426-X
Page count: 186pp
Publisher: City Lights
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 2003