A prizewinning best-seller in Italy, Piperno’s debut novel will likely strike some American readers as recycled Philip Roth. For Daniel Sorrentino, the 33-year-old narrator and grandson of a Jewish Italian family, is given to the same erotic obsessions and hypersensitivity to class distinctions that preoccupy the narrators of Roth’s early novels. In a monologue that is sometimes bitterly funny and sometimes overly digressive, Daniel sketches in his once wealthy family’s disastrous loss of the fortune that was amassed, in large part, by Daniel’s grandfather, Bepy, a textile manufacturer whose falling out with his partner precipitated the family’s financial descent. Daniel devotes asides to his workaholic father and his putupon, self-sacrificing mother before zeroing in on the defining moment of his young adulthood—his obsession with Gaia Cittadini, the granddaughter of Bepy’s business partner. Content to be her friend in the hope of eventually becoming her lover, Daniel subjects himself to a series of increasingly humiliating encounters that cripple his self-esteem. What Daniel’s meandering monologue lacks in pacing, it makes up for in setting, as he describes in envious detail the luxurious residences of Rome’s upper crust.
by Joanne Wilkinson