Validation is a monster we carry within us – we seek it in abundance for the tiniest of things to the biggest of matters; and in the sordid event of its unavailability in external sources, we turn inwards and grab it nonetheless. We validate ourselves; we justify ourselves. Human mind has long been at the end of its wits, attempting to sieve the validation in a pragmatic funnel against a narcissistic one. But the success has been fleeting and regularly, illusional.
And within these enchanting webs of illusions, Domenico Starnone weaves a riveting story of love, infidelity, greed and futility.
In case it’s slipped your mind, Dear Sir, let me remind you: I am your wife.
Thus opens the novel with accusations of Vanda, a mother of two teens, whose husband, Aldo, has left the family to be with a younger woman. She writes with definite anger but refrains from pouring her heart out. Aldo, who is firmly in love with Lydia, defends his position but refrains from severing ties altogether. Sandro, 11 and Anna, 7 remain undecided on their parents – one’s visible presence and the other’s invisible care makes the side difficult to choose.
Fast forward 30 years – Vanda and Aldo are septuagenarians, on a vacation to Gallipoli and fretting about leaving Labes, their cat, alone in their home at Rome.
Have they reconciled? On what conditions? For how long? And most importantly, why?
Reading Starnone’s prose was akin to the experience of visiting the childhood home of a sagacious, delightful elderly – he gingerly takes you around, discarding all elements of haste, pauses for long at seemingly trivial artefacts but regales you soon with their back stories, encourages you to ask questions without expecting immediate answers, doles out honeyed wisdom without warning, leaving you oddly sticky at times, offers you a break from the occasional exhaustion by slipping a smart joke, sinks indulgently into soft swirls of nostalgia and opens hidden doors, one after another, to reveal spaces of vintage and inspiring beauty.
Ties is a brilliant work – defying the confines of any genre, it achieves an exhilarating balance among narrative voice, structure, pace, lyricism and content. Initially, the plot appeared a whimpering mule but it grew gradually, and eventually morphed into a shrewd stallion at the stunning climactic pages. It left me gasping for more even as it cocooned me in a delicate mesh of validations.
The ties wouldn’t let go, and I wouldn’t desert them either. Because sometimes, all we want is to nestle in an inertia that neither redeems us nor destroys us – it just keeps us afloat.
P.S. P.S. Starnone is the husband of Anita Raja who is speculated to be the elusive Elena Ferrante (author of the Neapolitan Series)!