Starnone’s latest novel describes a man’s visit with his grandson.
A new book from Starnone (Ties, 2017, etc.) is an event to celebrate. An exquisite Italian writer believed to be Elena Ferrante’s husband, he writes slim, elegant, meticulously crafted novels—and this is his best yet. An older man, an illustrator, comes from Milan, where he is currently living, to Naples, where he grew up, to look after his grandson while his daughter and son-in-law attend an academic conference. Mario, the 4-year-old, knows all kinds of things, like how to turn on the stove, how to set the table, and how to change channels on the TV. He’s annoying, in the way that 4-year-old know-it-alls are annoying. Meanwhile, his grandfather, whose health is no longer great and who no longer remembers exactly where he put the phone or whether he closed the balcony door, is struggling to complete the illustrations for “The Jolly Corner,” a Henry James story. In that story, a man returns to his childhood home after a long period of time away and becomes obsessed with the idea of who he might have been, what life he might have led, if he’d stayed. He’s desperate to catch sight of his own ghost. Starnone’s novel echoes James’ story but it also works entirely independently. Mario’s grandpa has ghosts of his own to confront. All the novel’s action occurs over the course of a few days. During that time, our elderly illustrator comes to doubt himself, his life, his achievements. He argues with Mario, and he tries to draw. Deceptively simple, the novel is also witty to the point of hilarity (see Mario’s argument with his grandpa about cartoons) and achingly moving.
A gorgeous account of a man’s struggle to reckon with the life he’s lived and the lives he hasn’t.