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Francesco De Filippo. Una storia anche d'amore.

Milan. Rizzoli. 2001. 180 pages L.24,000. ISBN 88-17-86700-4

A FIRST NOVEL BY a writer born in Naples in 1960, this "story that is also about love" traces the adventures of Teodoro Faxa, an "anomalous romagnolo" displaced in the Vesuvian town of Maciulliaa, where he loves and works, neither very successfully. Faxa and his fellow characters are not simply caricatures. Outrageously goofy individuals out of synch with societal codes, they navigate life like bewildered goldfish in a bowl against whose protective glass they are constantly whacking their noses (there is, in fact, a good deal in the book about bumps and bruises).

Faxa's opposite number, however, the resolute Anita Dolores del Gesu, seems more adapted to her environment than does the hapless Faxa. Anita has been given the name she bears by her lumpen lover, Augusto Diaz. After a lifelong attempt to traverse Africa and reach the South Pole, Diaz dies of disappointment in Switzerland when he realizes his efforts have all been expended in the wrong direction. Anita, however, has steadier aim. Setting her sights on Faxa and declaring her love to him "eleven years, four months, and twenty-four days" after she first sees him. Then, just "seven years later on the 12th of January" (as the narrator informs us with maniacal precision), she bags him as husband, an event that leads to unhappiness for both of them.

Other characters in the cast of misfits that populate Una storia anche d'amore include Patrizio Boriello, who communicates only through objects--in particular, the huge alarm clock he swings wildly in semiotic forays that his interlocutors are surprisingly able to interpret without difficulty. Patrizio, in one of the novel's darker scenes, has been driven to aphasia by the wartime rape and dismemberment by Nazi deserters of the only woman he ever loved. This is told in a brief flashback, however, since the rest of the book's action takes place in the early 1950s. Even so, De Filippo's is not a historical novel, nor, despite the zany dialect names of many of the characters, a work of regional color. A chronicle, instead, of everyday life that could be set anywhere and anytime, it explores two paradoxical aspects of our existence: our ability to communicate through the abstract tools of language, and our concomitant enslavement to concupiscence, hunger, sleepiness, constipation, and flatulence--to mention just some of the sometimes disconcerting aspects of our corporeal existence that this novel gleefully catalogues. The many scenes of masturbation as practiced either collectively or in solitude are thus counterparts on the bodily level of the repeated instances in the text when language functions as pure solipsism with all lines of potential communication madly askew.

Despite its comic tone, De Filippo's novel also treats serious themes, among them loneliness, timidity, amorous frustration, and the pain of betrayal, loss, and despair. Whether his characters will be perceived as lovable or not depends on how much patience readers can bring to this sort of tongue-in-cheek fiction and how amusing they find De Filippo's sendups of contemporary Italian language patterns.
Charles Klopp
Ohio State University
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Author:Klopp, Charles
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 2002
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