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Dacia Maraini has treated the problem of domestic violence before in her fiction. In Voci she uses the form of a murder mystery, a genre not generally cultivated by Italian fiction writers. Here Maraini's English genes stand her in good stead, as she handles in a superb manner the story of Michela Canova, a radio journalist who receives from her boss the assignment to investigate the scorching social phenomenon of brutality against women. This assignment sends the protagonist on an emotional journey of her own, as she becomes involved in uncovering the identity of the person who murdered Angela, her young neighbor found stabbed to death in the apartment facing hers.

Only a writer of Maraini's caliber could get to the heart of the matter with such swiftness and subtlety. She handles the twists and turns of the classic psychological thriller and forces the reader's attention onto the ambiguous relationship between violation and seduction. For the victim has, after all, opened her door to her killer, a fact that haunts Michela as she intuitively follows the clues of a pair of neatly arranged blue tennis shoes found next to the entrance of Angela's apartment and a change of clothes neatly folded next to her bed, as if in a repeated ritual of submission.

As it turns out, the leading of the lamb to slaughter had started back in Angela's childhood, when, in a dysfunctional family par excellence, the stepfather had preyed on the innocence and defenselessness of his two young stepdaughters. The revelation of the mother's silence in this sordid family saga is shocking. Out of blind devotion and out of a need for security, she had allowed herself the complicity of avoidance and denial. Ironically, this woman, who had not lifted a finger to rescue her own daughters, ends up, in a fitting form of retribution, a recluse in her villa in Florence, where the protagonist finds her, a spent beauty, abandoned, forced to wear gloves because of a resistant case of eczema.

The novel builds to a crescendo of discoveries, as Michela conducts a series of interviews with Angela's family members and acquaintances, whose voices she registers. She pounds the pavement as any good gumshoe would, but in a very pensive manner, with none of the breeziness often associated with the typical female protagonist of this genre. She is particularly tender toward Angela, whose voice is the only one we do not hear but whose presence hovers over the entire book. Michela's obsession with the human voice leads her to uncover a world of childhood sexual abuse suffered in silence and to solve the mystery of Angela's death. In growing up, each child had learned to act out in a different manner the effects of her or his traumatic experience. Angela had used the tactics of seduction as a means of survival, as though she could not afford not to use her body language to keep the situation at bay. Ironically, it is her psychotic older sister, the pathological liar, who tells Michela the truth. Their stepfather had killed Angela because her seductive behavior toward others represented an act of emancipation on her part and his loss of control over her, thus provoking his jealousy and his murderous rage. In the end, however, he too falls victim to his own perversion by committing suicide.

Maraini has no pat answers to offer her readers for the proliferation and magnitude of the specific form of social regression that violence against women constitutes in Western culture. Her art is the very means by which she herself searches for answers. In a recent interview, which appeared on 16 November 1994 in Il Mattino, she admitted not being able to understand rape in itself, believing that, since it does not exist in nature, it must be a historically and socially conditioned act. She further believes that no woman involved in a perverse relationship is safe, and that, given the ambiguity in the human heart, emancipation in itself is only an illusion. Her strong moral sense has led her to write this book to bear witness. As always, she succeeds in transcending all labels, for Voci is much more than a murder mystery. In its unsettling way, it forces the reader to think and it shows Maraini's talent and versatility in any. genre she chooses to express her thematic concerns.

Rosetta Di Pace-Jordan University of Oklahoma
COPYRIGHT 1995 University of Oklahoma
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Copyright 1995 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Pace-Jordan, Rosetta Di
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1995
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