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New York Times Magazine blog: "This novel...completely hijacked my attention."

Date: Aug 20 2013

As I was leaving the office the other day, I snagged a crime novel called “At the End of a Dull Day,” by Massimo Carlotto, off our giveaway table. I often do this as a random test. I’ll read a couple of pages on the subway, typically lose interest and then find a place to leave it. This novel, however, completely hijacked my attention, and I finished it that same night.

Originally written in Italian, “At the End of a Dull Day” is set in Veneto, the province around Venice. The protagonist, who runs a prostitution ring out of his fashionable restaurant, is a nasty piece of work — a calculating, sadistic monster who subordinates everybody, especially his unfortunate wife, to his whims. But he also has polished insights into things like wine and food pairings, fitness regimens and the glory days of crime back in the 1960s:

Compared to the present, young people had a lot of fun showing the world how ridiculous it was. There was an astounding way of creativity in every field, from music and film to art and crime. Extraordinary gangs of armed robbers had cleaned out bank vaults with great rock music echoing in their ears and a joint on their lips. Someone in my group of acquaintances had even begun theorizing the concept of creative criminality and contrasting it with the cruel, dull, repetitive crimes committed by the capitalist establishment.

Here I have to break the quote because the next paragraph describes an unusual sexual act. He then continues with his theme:

In those days, organized crime was more effervescent and less oppressive. Evidently even the major crime gangs were affected by the changes sweeping through the world. Then, when the collective dream came to an end and there was a mass of losers in prison doing life without parole, the various international Mafias moved in and globalization decimated any free market competition, so that the sphere of illegal pursuits turned gray and humdrum like everything else.

So this made me wonder — now that the trend has swung back in the other direction, now that global homogeneity is giving way to all things locavore, artisanal and home-brewed, criminals must be following suit, right? Somebody somewhere must be reviving bespoke, handcrafted cons like the one in the movie “The Sting.” Think how brilliantly that could work today: You could fleece people and pass it off as a cultural experience.

Or maybe that’s what the contemporary art market is already doing.

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