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An exuberant tale of a man caught between faith and freedom, from one of Italy's most talented young novelists
Thirty years old, growing flabby in a sexless marriage, Piero Rosini has decided to dedicate his life to Jesus. He's renounced the novels and American music that were filling his head with bullshit; he's moved out of his fancy bourgeois neighborhood, which was keeping him from finding spiritual purity and the Lord's truth. Now that he and his wife have settled into an unfinished housing development on the far outskirts of Rome, he'll be able to really concentrate on his job at an ultraconservative Catholic publishing house, editing books that highlight the decadence and degradation of modern society, including one claiming that Pope John Paul II was secretly Jewish. But Piero is suffocating. He worries that The Jewish Pope might be taking things too far. He can't get his beautiful sister-in-law out of his head. Temptations are breaking down his religious resolve. He decides to flee to Paris, which turns out not to be the best way of guarding his purity.
With a charismatic narrator as familiar with the finer points of Christian theology as with the floor layout of IKEA and the schedules of European budget airlines, Francesco Pacifico's exuberant novel brings us Europe old and new and the inner workings of a conflicted but always compelling mind. The Story of My Purity is fiction with great humor, intelligence, neuroticism, and vision, from a young writer at the beginning of a tremendous career.
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Francesco Pacifico has written for a number of Italian publications, as well as for Rolling Stone and GQ, and has translated the works of Henry Miller, Allen Ginsberg, Dave Eggers, Will Eisner, Dana Spiotta, and more. He is the author of two novels and lives in Rome.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Napoleon. Nineteenth-century mental asylums were overrun with men convinced they were the Emperor of the French. Roaming about in crumpled, ungainly tricorne hats, they gave orders to invisible troops in their institutions’ English gardens. These men weren’t aberrations, just outliers on a spectrum of absolutely normal human behavior. We all have to believe we’re somebody. If we don’t give ourselves a face, if we don’t occupy some position, all action becomes impossible. At times we go too far and end up in an asylum, but generally speaking, we can’t do without imagination.
For instance, I was at my parents’ house, Christmas dinner 2005, and I had to ask my father for a loan. What kind of person was I? A Sergey Brin? A Julien Sorel? A Trump? Someone who, given a hundred-thousand-euro loan, could move the world? Or was I one of those sons of successful men, their faces swollen from seaside vacations, with childlike smiles and the lumpy bodies of unfinished men? One of those aristocrats who drown in their own pools, or the Kennedy kids, the Agnelli kids, with their vices, their complexes? Because my father was rich. And not even excessively so—he was happy rich, without serious obligations to the world. And not only was he happy rich, he was also the master of his own destiny, because when he was young he’d used his considerable talent to rescue his father-in-law’s fortune and make a name for himself. In the late seventies, when the furniture market threatened to tank, aggressive new dealers started coming out of nowhere and selling off their stock at ridiculously low prices, but my father saw it coming and advised his father-in-law to get out of the business in time. So my grandfather cut a deal with these new low-cost entrepreneurs and diversified. What he lost from one pocket was returned to him in the other, and the damage was limited. My father became Achilles, Hector, an unblemished hero.
It was none other than this charming and self-confident man whom I had to ask for a loan, I who was the soul of drab. My belly strained against my sky-blue tailored shirt, my stooped back ached, and as if that weren’t enough, I always kept my eyes to the ground. Just like Jesus when he looked down and prodded the earth with a stick instead of facing the crowd baying for the adulteress’s stoning: I followed his example.
What with my stoop and my belly, my wife had lost interest in me and my body, and I in turn had lost all confidence in myself. She didn’t show the least interest even though I was tall and had the broad shoulders of a champion—prevailing over it all were the two startled little folds beneath my butt cheeks, excesses of fat, of physical resignation. And on that Christmas Day as well my thighs swelled the pants of my suit, the suit I was married in. Why an elegant suit for Christmas dinner? As everybody knew—because I took every opportunity to explain—it was my custom, on holy days, to set aside my usual shabby dress, my unlikely argyles and gray corduroys, and put on my good suit so everyone would understand that I cared only for the Lord; only for Him did I get dressed up, and certainly not to please women. With the anxious and contrite air that always clung to me, especially at my parents’, where I insisted on saying grace before meals even though it had never been the custom in our house, with that anxious and contrite air and my gray English-style suit, it was impossible for me to make allies when I needed them. A good Christian should be more accommodating but, I told myself, the times are what they are, and if you speak softly, people won’t understand that the Lord is their shepherd. The state of things really bothered me, and everybody knew it and gave me a wide berth, refusing to take me into their confidence, denying me their loving touch. I gave anyone who found fault with the opinions of Pope Ratzinger a mouthful, and turned up my nose if anyone made dirty jokes; in short, I was totally committed, in my own way, to becoming a saint. Go and read the lives of the saints; they didn’t mess around.
Now, even a saint, when asking his father for a loan, has to decide what kind of son he is: one with balls who knows his own mind, or nothing but a big baby who’ll live in the shadow of his parents forever and die still soft. That’s why saints don’t ask their parents for loans and instead choose a life of poverty. But I wanted to change jobs. I absolutely had to change jobs, I was going crazy. I had to give up my position as an editor at the Catholic publishing house Non Possumus and look for something less stressful. But as you’ll gather from the conversation in which I ask Daddy for money, at the time I had just the sort of job to make people shake their heads and say, “You made your bed...”
I was difficult. And if you’re a difficult person, you’ll agree that even if your obstinacy at times just seems to others like a bad habit, being difficult in fact prevents you from living well. In my particular case, I should add that before the conversion that struck me blind with the love of Jesus, I was a good-looking kid. Many people were dismayed by my voluntary transformation into a homely and unsociable man. I may have had my father’s and brothers’ sallow skin, but what with my height, my good shoulders and slim legs, my way with words, my tendency to philosophize, a nose somewhere between Jewish and Imperial Roman, I’d been able to take my pick before becoming engaged to Alice.
So now people would say, “How did Piero Rosini ever come to this? He’s become ugly and even more insufferable than before. A lousy philosopher he always was, but now you won’t even get a laugh out of him.” They stopped calling. And I would think, Blessed are those who suffer for His cause.
I remained seated at the table, waiting to find the courage to approach my father. The others had already moved into the living room behind me. The two large, unequal rooms were separated by a pair of short partition walls that made them seem like mirrored stage sets. There I was on one stage, pure Harold Pinter: hunched over the table, my shirt cuffs resting among the crumbs on a battlefield of white linen, the gold-thread-embroidered tablecloth strewn with dessert plates smeared with Chantilly cream and the remains of pangiallo and parrozzo. Across from me, my little five-year-old nephew, wearing a red vest over a blue-and-white-striped shirt with an unbuttoned and crumpled collar, his fine brown hair parted to one side, was enraptured by the task of filling a page with alternating upper- and lowercase H’s. No doubt certain family members—my wife, for instance—had understood, knowing my temperament, that I remained there out of spite. I couldn’t stomach the fact that my father had given the order to break ranks before coffee, before Mamma had even turned on the machine, just to cover up my older brother Carlo’s dirty tricks. As Carlo nibbled on a crumbly slice of parrozzo, his cell phone gave a short ring; seconds later it gave another, longer this time. He’d checked the display and, after a second’s hesitation, eyebrows raised, answered with a “Hey there!” and disappeared from the room, leaving his lobster-colored sweater on the back of the overstuffed chair. His mistress, obviously. And Papa, ever faithful to his sons, especially the two oldest, Carlo and Fausto, who had always accompanied him on his work trips and got up to who knows what together (I’ll never know), had proposed, “Shall we move into the living room? Dear, will you bring us the coffee in there?”
Mamma had stood up, asking, “How many?”
Papa, big and tall, had shuffled away like a grizzly, dragging his leather slippers. Coming in for landing on the turquoise velvet easy chair, he asked for his cigarettes, which Mamma presently provided.
Christmas dinner should never be interrupted by a mistress. I remained at the table with my little nephew—“Uncle Piero, how many words do you know beginning with H?” “How is a word beginning with H.” “It ... it’s at the start of the word. How many do you know?” “How is a word starting with H.” “Whaat?”—and in the air between us, among the dessert plates, glasses, and silverware, hung the memory of the linguine with lobster, the turbot covered in thinly sliced potatoes, the prawns in cocktail sauce, and all that Piedmontese and Apulian wine we’d befuddled ourselves with as we talked about A.S. Roma, potholes, makes of scooters, the lengths of scarves.
At that point my father’s heart must have ached with joy: the phone call already ably forgotten, he rested behind me, basking in the meal’s success. What did it matter to him if two of his three daughters-in-law were suffering, scratching up the doorjambs with their cuckold’s horns? If he had raised two older children (the younger ones, my sister and I, were Mamma’s creation) as second-rate pleasure-seekers, uninspired, slaves to material needs, so what? In any case, the grandkids would be the ones to pay, the sons and daughters of mothers and fathers who didn’t love each other in the light of Christ.
As you can see, my extravagant mind transformed familiar faces into ugly brutes and wretched victims, and well-known houses into inhospitable deserts where I was at the mercy of the Tempter. Such images may well suit Jesus of Nazareth as the Devil leads him up the mountain to offer him the riches of the world—for him reality truly is threatening and sinister. But for me? Well, I needed money, and it’s hard to ask for money from someone you regard as the Devil Incarnate.
Yes, that’s what I thought my father was. The last of the devils, like Al Pacino in Donnie Brasco is...
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Book Description Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013. Condition: New. book. Seller Inventory # M0374270449
Book Description Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013. Hardcover. Condition: New. Never used!. Seller Inventory # P110374270449
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