Well, having finally finished Aracoeli, I guess I have to take back at least a slice of frustration with the book’s narrator/protagonist, where what seemed at first to have been needless whining was concerned. Poor little Manuele did end up having quite a big skeleton in the maternal closet– but he also didn’t stop himself from embellishing an embarrassing history with a heavy and continually renewed dose of self-defeat. Here’s one passage that could understandably scar a kid, though: after wrenching himself out of the grasp of an oily pedophile (and I’m guessing this was at about age nine), here’s the reaction our boy got:
… my face must have showed him such naked repulsion that he slowly let go of me. Before leaving, however, he didn’t fail to take his revenge. He studied my features with a kind of brisk examination, curling his lip in an offensive sneer; and he concluded, in a saccharine tone, “Too bad you’re ugly.”… YOU’RE UGLY. It was a truth, unfortunately, no longer new to me. But on this desperate eve, and at the first step of my final escape, it made the fatal rent… I stood there on the sidewalk, the ugly little puppet that Aracoeli had abandoned without even a goodbye.*
Maybe before the age when psychologists had become one more routine part of life and the Oprahs out there had led each one of us into making and believing in starry-eyed self-assertions of our own unique value, childhood nightmares had permission to linger on a lot longer than we’d like to allow them to today. Even when this book was originally published, in the early 1980s, the World War II-era story Morante tells, woven in with nearly forty-year-old aftereffects, wouldn’t have been (as) proper material for public confession as they might be at present, for a more voyeuristically sympathetic (or vampiric, maybe) society raised on daytime talk shows, “reality” TV, and the routinization of the lurid they’ve helped to achieve.
So I’ll readily admit to having made a prematurely negative judgment about Morante’s main character– but I’m not chomping at the bit to read anything similar anytime soon.
* Elsa Morante, Aracoeli, transl. William Weaver (New York: Random House, 1984), 268.