This slender novel by Starnone, a writer cited as a candidate for the real Elena Ferrante, encompasses the arc of a marriage of 40-plus years. Roman couple Aldo and Vanda are in their seventies, well-off, with two grown children, but many years before a rupture shattered all their lives. Ingeniously constructed, the novel opens with a package of Vanda’s savagely accusatory letters to Aldo, which he has found long afterwards. They date back to when he walked out on his family to pursue an obsessive affair with Lidia, a younger woman.
As Pulitzer Prize-winning author Lahiri notes in her introduction, the cube in which Aldo secretly keeps nude photos of his lost love mirrors the Chinese-box narrative. The question of who is in the right or wrong is carefully balanced; Aldo inflicts pain, but Vanda’s fury may have damaged her children even more.