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Book Review

Newspaper: Shelf Awareness
Date: Feb 6 2017

Domenico Starnone's Ties is an expertly crafted short novel that is charmingly intimate, disarmingly chatty and laced with some walloping surprises. Its Italian publication so captivated Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jhumpa Lahiri (whose memoir In Other Words documents her study of Italian) that she translated the novel into English, and superbly so!

First Starnone and then his wife, Anita Raja, have been suspected by many to be Elena Ferrante, the pseudonymous author of the Neapolitan Novels. The possible connection makes the domestic mystery of Ties, with its marital betrayals and illicit love, ring in a way that Ferrante fans might expect.

The novel is a meditation on love--what is gained, what is lost and who is affected when it all goes wrong. Part one follows a sequence of furious letters written by Vanda Minori, a 30-something wife abandoned along with her two well-behaved children by her husband, Aldo, who has fallen in love with 19-year-old Lidia and set off on a new, exciting life.

Part two, told by Aldo 40 years later, opens with Aldo and his wife (they're still together!) returning home one night to discover their apartment vandalized and the cat missing. Among the wreckage Aldo finds a swollen yellow envelope containing his wife's letters from four decades ago--the contents of part one. Something else gone missing as well--the secret little packet with naked photos of Lidia that Aldo has never been able to throw away. Part three is unexpected, perfect and best left without comment here.

Starnone's natural theatricality and robust characters, combined with a sneaky, clever plot, make for a delightful novel that is cruelly short. The tumultuous emotional context of a marriage between the passionate Aldo and Vanda draws out the ferocious language that hurting, angry couples throw at each other in fights. Nevertheless, the whole story reeks of love--the frustrated, truncated, too-much and not-quite-enough love that holds families together in life. --Nick DiMartino, Nick's Picks, University Book Store, Seattle, Wash.

Shelf Talker: This perfectly crafted short novel about marital infidelity is by an Italian author suspected of being the real Elena Ferrante--or married to her.