Set in December 1999, the novel centers on a series of murders that seem connected but in the end - since life, as the author informs us, is not logical, and "novels exist only because they express an aspiration to render [it so]" - prove largely unrelated. There is also a love interest between the main character and his beautiful and much younger nonsister (as it turns out) Adelaide Eufemia. By the book's conclusion, in the best murder-mystery style, all the murders have been solved, and, in the best romance style, the true identities of the principal characters are revealed, a huge inheritance has been bestowed, and the lovers are about to embark on an extended honeymoon from which they perhaps will never return.
The tone with which this story is told is a knowing and cynical one appropriate for the book's world-weary narrator and its setting in a debased and somewhat scruffy Eternal City that has long since seen it all. The taste for grotesque characters apparent in Rugarli's Andromeda e la notte of 1990 (see WLT 65:2, p. 286) is again evident in the current work, where his depictions of government officials, newspaper reporters, culture moguls, depraved aristocrats, and assorted hangers-on present what are at once types and comic distortions of Rome's cultural and bureaucratic fauna at the end of the 1990s.
Satire is what Rugarli is about in this book too. In L'infinito, forse tenderness - or a sense of spirituality ("the infinite, perhaps" of the title) - tries hard to put in an appearance. Until the very end, however, it always gets pushed off stage. The targets of Rugarli's satire here are the somewhat predictable ones of political corruption, disregard for the country's artistic treasures, lack of attention to public health and tolerance of the plague of drug addiction, infatuation with television as a substitute for life, and a general lack of ideals in a consumer society obsessed with sensual satisfaction.
Technically, this is a competently constructed and often witty piece of fiction, even if it breaks little new ground in the history of narrative or provides much that is really original in its analysis of social and political issues. Unlike the "problematic and experimental" fiction which the dust-jacket blurb suggests that today's readers have grown weary of, Rugarli's novel attempts more modestly to provide a good read while it CASTIGAT RIDENDO MORES - an idea, after all, that originated in this same Rome almost two millennia ago.
Charles Klopp Ohio State University