The prolific English-born novelist (Mimi’s Ghost, 2001), essayist (Hell and Back, 2002), and memoirist (An Italian Education, 1995) romps around Italy with the rarely civil but always rabid supporters of a mediocre professional soccer team.
Hoping to examine “the way the dream intersects with ordinary life, private and public,” Parks decides to see every Sunday soccer game of Hellas Verona, his beloved team in his adopted city. (More than 250 pages pass before he grudgingly acknowledges that Verona has another team, Chievo Verona, whose rise accompanies Hellas’s fall.) Parks’s passion for the game, for Italian language and culture, and for adolescent tomfoolery are at first sufficient. In clear, vibrant, gleefully un-PC prose he describes stadium crowds; jam-packed buses, trains, and planes; significant moments in games; and the surly, unpredictable way that chance becomes a player. But as the season continues, Parks cannot shield from view the ugliness of the fans whose acceptance he so desperately and even pathetically craves. They post toxic notes on the team Web site (many appear as chapter epigraphs). They scream obscenities at policemen, at other fans, at bus drivers. They grunt like monkeys at the black players on opposing teams. Objects and fists fly. In one horrifying episode on a train near the end, a scene out of A Clockwork Orange, they torment “a pretty young girl” (a phrase Parks uses throughout the book), urging her to spread her legs, show her breasts—or at least give them her brassiere. One of them brags about his erection. And what does Parks do while this virtual rape is occurring? “I begin to feel vaguely responsible,” he says. But he does nothing but watch, participate a little (the girl is seated beside him), remember it, enjoy it.
Parks has no problem with the surrender of civility on Sundays in soccer stadiums. His readers probably will. (1 map)