Welcome to the latest edition of Books on GIF, the animated alternative to boring book reviews. This Sunday's book is 'Trick' by Domenico Starnone.
Longtime BoG subscribers may remember that last year I reviewed Starnone'sexcellent book 'Ties.'So when I saw another of his novels had been translated into English by the amazing Jhumpa Lahiri, I pounced. I enjoyed this book, too; it has an intense story, it's got compelling characters, and it's deeply depressing. Seriously, this book put me in:
Daniele Mallarico is a renowned artist and illustrator called upon by his daughter to come to Naples to babysit his 4-year-old grandson, Mario, for a few days while she and her husband are away at a conference. The old man arrives behind on a commission to illustrate an Italian edition of a Henry James story and ailing from a recent medical procedure. He's agitated and tired, and now faced with his know-it-all grandson who's bursting with energy and arrogance. What unfolds is a mashup of Dennis the Menace and 'Huis Clos.' You remember, that's the one where Sartre wrote:
I have no idea what's going on in this GIF. But for Daniele, his daughter's apartment becomes an existential hell where he's trapped with the boy. Mario's youth, potential and vitality are a bitter contrast to the old man's waning energy, attention span and artistic élan, and their time together puts Daniele into physical and spiritual crisis. Despite being only 4, the boy is domineering and annoying, and is always telling Daniele that he knows the proper way to do things like set the table, handle knives, turn on the gas or unlock doors. He torments his grandfather by critiquing his art, disturbing his work, arguing about playtime, tiring him out and eventually leaving him locked out on the patio in the frigid wind and rain. This forces the old man not only to resent and detest Mario, but also to judge coldly himself and his life as an artist. He wonders whether he had any genuine talent to begin with, whether creativity even exists, whether the artist's life is worth living and whether anything actually matters. By the end you're left thinking:
While this book reaffirmed my general disdain for most children, it also threw me for a loop. For one, it filled me with guilt and dread by forcing me to consider how much of my artist mother's creative force and potential may have been lost while raising me. It also filled me with anxiety and doubt about Books on GIF, and whether my voice is legitimate and valid, or if this whole newsletter thing is just frivolous, pretentious and stupid. I mean, I can't give you guys the serious and smart all-caps BOOKS stuff you get from BookForum, The New York Times Book Review, The New Yorker or The New York Review of Books. This gets me down sometimes, and I feel like:
But I'm not going to give up, at least not today. Not for heroic reasons, but because by the time I moved onto the next book, I remembered that the gates to existential hell are always unlocked. I just left. (But the real trick is to not go there in the first place!) So what if the BOOK world doesn't validate me? That's not what I'm here for. I started this newsletter because I wanted to talk about the joy of books with friends and strangers. And while this book did not bring me joy, it is nevertheless fantastic. I was fascinated by the interplay of Mario and Daniele. I was on the edge of my seat when the old man was trapped on the patio. And I found catharsis. That is the definition of outstanding literature. Read it.
'Trick' ('Scherzetto') by Domenico Starnone was originally published in 2016 by Giulio Einaudi. The English translation by Jhumpa Lahiri was published in 2018 by Europa Editions. 191 pages.
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In case you missed it: Books on GIF #86 featured 'My Boyfriend is a Bear' by Pamela Ribon and Cat Farris.
What's next: In two weeks you'll finally get a review of 'Basic Black With Pearls' by Helen Weinzweig. Also in the queue are 'The Rent Collector' by Camron Wright, 'Masks' by Fumiko Enchi and 'The Vorrh' by B. Catling, among others.
Send your recommendations: If you've got a bestseller, a classic or a forgotten gem you want me to review, shoot me an email anytime.
Thanks for reading, and thanks especially to Donna for editing this review!
Until next time,