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San Diego Union-Tribune: "...Every now and again, an author comes along who dares to remind us that the very pain of abandonment can ratchet us back a few evolutionary notches, knock us to the ground and leave us crawling, babbling like beasts."

Date: Feb 1 2006

STRICTLY FICTIONAL
Sometimes, it's hard not to just abandon hope

With our self-help manuals and our cheery aphorisms, we like to believe we have risen above the primordial human fear of abandonment. There are other fish in the sea, we tell ourselves, wiping away tears. Just move on! Rise above it.

But every now and again, an author comes along who dares to remind us that the very pain of abandonment can ratchet us back a few evolutionary notches, knock us to the ground and leave us crawling, babbling like beasts. Olga is the disposable wife in Elena Ferrante's disturbing, engrossing second novel. Betrayed by a husband who leaves her for a younger woman, Olga finds she must not only fight her way through her pain and anger but grapple with "the practical consequences of abandonment," the responsibilities for her children, the family dog, the bills she once shared with her husband but are now hers alone.

At first Olga goes through the motions of domesticity, terrified she will become like the povrella of her childhood, a woman so torn apart by betrayal she morphs into "transparent skin over bones, her eyes drowning in violet wells, her hands damp spider webs." But Olga's grief and rage prove to be too powerful for her own rationale. She succumbs to sloth, violence, temporary insanity. Soon enough, she is incapable of even unlocking the bolts on her front door and becomes a prisoner in her own home, unable to care for her dying dog, her sick young son or her horrified daughter.

"The Days of Abandonment" made waves in Europe for its unflinching examination of marriage and motherhood. A shrewd and hard-hitting writer, Ferrante forges a character who is at once selfish and bitter yet wholly authentic, someone attempting to become herself even while overcome by lovesick frenzy. Ultimately, the novel succeeds at being the kind of book Olga herself aspires to write, a book by a writer who forces one to "look through every line, to gaze downward and feel the vertigo of the depths, the blackness of the inferno."

by Tiffany Lee-Youngren