Books on GIF #43 — 'Ties' by Domenico Starnone


Books on GIF is a weekly review and discussion of random books — from bestsellers to classics to unearthed gems — told with the help of GIFs. We'll cover fiction, nonfiction and the occasional graphic novel.

This Sunday's book is 'Ties' by Domenico Starnone.
TiesThis book was recommended to me by Heather after I posted a photo to Instagram that I had taken in the Harvard Book Store. The image was of 'Samskara,' which I reviewed a few weeks back, and 'Ties' was next to it in the display. Now, I'm going to recommend it to all of you: you've read Elena Ferrante's 'The Days of Abandonment,' you should read 'Ties' right away. If you haven't read it, please do so (here's my review), because the two books are very closely related — they follow essentially the same plot, and Starnone is the husband of the woman who's reportedly Ferrante — and the experience of seeing the same story told from two different perspectives by two powerful writers is highly enriching. So, like 'The Days of Abandonment,' 'Ties' is not a happy book. It's about selfishness, pain and the legacy of infidelity. And like any Ferrante novel, it's a:'Ties' also tells the story of a man who abandons his wife and children for a younger woman, but this time he comes back. The book is divided into three sections. The first is a series of excerpted letters written by the wife, Vanda, to her cheating husband, Aldo, and they explode with pain and rage, and I was reminded of Alanis Morrisette: second section is told from the perspective of Aldo, decades after he has reunited with Vanda. The now-elderly couple go away for a vacation by the sea, and when they return home they find it has been completely ransacked and that their cat, Labes, is missing. While he's cleaning up the mess, Aldo finds Vanda's letters that he saved but apparently never read, and begins to read them for the first time, jumping from note to note and reading only fragments (basically, what was in the previous section). He then remembers that he's stashed inside a sculpture on top of a bookshelf nude Polaroids of his now former younger lover that were taken decades earlier. He checks it. The photos are gone! He starts to: third section features the two now-grown children and shows how their lives were disfigured by their father's abandonment and subsequent return. It would give away too much to go into this section in depth, but suffice to say at the end you'll be saying of Aldo:'s because he's a weak man. Not only does he leave his wife, and justify the break by saying it helped make him more creative and advance his career, but he then abandons his young lover, his muse, to return home. But he never rebuilds the trust with his family at home — he continues to take lovers and finds it's easier to lie about it. His break is neither forgiven nor forgotten. He is despised by Vanda and eventually his children, too. That's an awkward and sad way to live. The book notes that Aldo himself came from a broken home, and that his childhood trauma has been passed down through him to his children. But Aldo doesn't understand that his actions have had similar consequences. To him, he was only obeying his desires, and to do otherwise he would only have cheated himself. Again: pointed out that the only sympathetic character in 'The Days of Abandonment' was the dog, and that might also be true here in that I was most concerned about the fate of the cat. I won't give that away, either, but there is a cool hidden meaning to the cat's name. Donna also pointed out that 'Ties' is better than 'The Days of Abandonment.' Even though I love Ferrante, I agree. 'Ties' tells a more complete, nuanced and compelling story. Donna says: 'It makes you want to reread it to find even deeper meanings.' Donna is right.

My rating:'Ties' by Domenico Starnone was originally published in 2014 by Guilio Einaudi, and in 2017 by Europa Editions. Translated and with an excellent introduction by Jhumpa Lahiri. 150 pages.

What's next?In the coming weeks I'll review 'Fates and Furies' by Lauren Groff, 'Eve's Hollywood' by Eve Babitz and 'Imagine Wanting Only This' by Kristen Radtke, among others.

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Thanks for reading!*


* Thanks especially to Donna for copy editing this review!