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M.A. Orthofer at The Complete Review: "Odd, and certainly bleak, Hollow Heart might beat too empty for many readers, but Di Grado shows enough skill here to make it worth a look."

Date: Jul 1 2015

Hollow Heart begins with the narrator's suicide. On 23 July 2011 Dorotea Giglio slits her wrists in the bathtub and bleeds out. For all her trouble, the finality one comes to expect with death is rather a let-down, as she lingers on in semi-spiritual form, able to continue walking and stalking the earth, albeit by and large unseen; her employer treats like her she's the same, but she's invisible for everyone else in her (former) life. Death has some odd effects: she finds herself illiterate but still able to write, for example. But she can and does drift around, not exactly haunting her old haunts but revisiting them -- while also keeping a close eye on the steady decomposition of her corporeal form (which fares as dead and buried bodies are supposed to, rotting slowly away).

Dorotea describes the fairly depressing life she had: she never knew her father, and her mother struggled raising her alone. She was about to graduate with a degree in biology when she offed herself at age twenty-five. She'd been on anti-depressants, and she had an aunt, Lidia, who was also a young suicide. She had had a boyfriend, Lorenzo, but he broke up with her ("via text message" -- though the cad had at least gone the maximum ("before the double rate kicks in") seven hundred character length in his dumping text).

The narrative jumps ahead four years, only to turn back and examine the past more closely, suggesting in part what led Dorotea to take her life. Then the present takes over again, year by year of those first dead years, some in more detail, some less (2014 is covered in half a page).

As Dorotea notes:

"The newly dead, after all the thanatocentric advertising offered by religion and art, have enormous expectations concerning death, and I was no exception to the rule."

It turns out not to be quite as advertised, but Dorotea makes the adjustments and goes with the (odd) flow. She returns repeatedly to several places: home, Lorenzo's -- she still can't quite get over him --, and her physical form, keeping close tabs on its state of decomposition. She even finds friends to pass the time with:

"On January 4 I went to the cemetery with Euridice. After watching my decomposition for half an hour, she said: "I have to tell you something. I like your body. It's really lovely."

(Euridice has her own ideas for what to do with the body, however, which is rather more than Dorotea can handle.)

Dorotea finds she's: "the living proof that death is not a limit. I don't survive. I subvive." Di Grado spins a decent novel out of this unusual premise, using the strangeness of the situation (and imagining its details) well; her narrator's expression, in particular, is effective, as Dorotea doesn't seek sympathy or offer excuses or explanations, while also being confronted with a world that is largely both familiar and yet now entirely separate.

Odd, and certainly bleak, Hollow Heart might beat too empty for many readers, but Di Grado shows enough skill here to make it worth a look.

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