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Seattle Times: within many a modern marriage there's a "greek tragedy waiting to happen" and Elena Ferrante opens the curtains on one.

Date: Nov 5 2005

It is an old, old story.

A man departs his marriage without warning or explanation, leaving his stunned wife to fend for herself and their young children.

So what is it about "The Days of Abandonment" that recasts this paradigmatic tale so urgently and with the force of a blow to the gut?

Start with the raw anguish of Olga, the novel's rejected wife. And the unsparing ability of Elena Ferrante (a pseudonym for the Italian author of this international best seller, which has just recently been made into a film) to hypnotically capture an intelligent, sophisticated woman's implosion under pressure.

In most accounts of marital meltdown, ditched spouses are granted some hurt and rage — but not at the expense of their children, or their sanity. But Ferrante details a more primal response to abandonment, when Italian writer and at-home mom Olga is discarded by her professor husband, Mario.

As Olga slips into a vortex of blind pain, Ferrante's vertiginous prose (sharply translated into English by Ann Goldstein) keeps us tumbling down with her. She tries at first to woo back Mario and maintain her domestic and maternal equilibrium. But soon her spouse's indifference, and the infidelity behind his betrayal, quite undoes Olga.

Such mundane problems as a broken phone turn into unbearable disasters. And a desperate plea for comfort backfires, in the humiliating seduction of a near-stranger.

As "Days of Abandonment" reaches its nightmarish peak, it brings to mind the horrific Roman Polanski film "Repulsion." This riveting novel suggests that, within many a modern marriage, there's a Greek tragedy waiting to happen.

by Misha Berson