If «Abandonment» is transmitted between generations: the new novel by Valentina Durante


By John

It's the body, the scene. The body and its laws, its imperatives, its tyrannies. Threshold and interface of the world, and also the only possibility of proximity with others, especially those who are dearest to us. And a scrupulous, obsessive procedure for managing the sick body, and its tyrannical needs, is what seems regular – in “The Abandonment” (The Ship of Theseus), Valentina Durante's latest novel, copywriter and teacher of Giulio Mozzi's storytelling workshop – the routine of a father and a daughter who, after separation, return to live in their father's house, to take care of their parent. In reality, to sink back into the most sticky family dynamics, still dominated, after years, by the echo of wars and resentments, ostracisms and removals.

As in many families (all?): the same house as always, with its palpable absences, first of all that of his beloved mother, who died of a devastating cancer (even there, in the body scene the evil had been hidden: a melanoma on the nail which she covered with thick layers of nail polish, ignoring it until it was was too late), then of his vicar, the aunt Miss all devotion (like every excellent jailer), ended up in a nursing home. And, not least, that of his beloved brother, who tried to win the family war with conflict and fury.

It is a panorama of rubble but well ordered, even composed (like a lifeless body) within the reassuring tracks of habit, of the healthcare procedure: apparently, the whole novel unfolds in a handful of hours, from 6pm to 1.20am, of domestic hustle and bustle. But the time that the reader experiences is that, subjective and infinitely dilated, of the protagonist and the narrator, and of everything she was: the literally (etymologically) cowardly little girl, with a “nature inclined to understand and justify”, the infinitely wounded by the cruelty enacted by her father, a literature professor nicknamed “Gullotin”, who, just as he had punished his wife, guilty of having fallen ill and died, continues to punish his children with his silence. Man of letters, but of letters incapable of forming a bridge and contact, incapable of communicating or building beauty: in a very insightful page the Author tells – with her intelligence of the gaze and her very measured and meticulously visual style – the “transformations” of his father's writing, a relationship with letters that gradually sink into illegibility and darkness. And the daughter ultimately inherits (everything is inherited) a relationship with the word that is equally in check: she becomes a copywriter of uncertain fortune, and then a bizarre “collaborator” of her father's letterless letters: a part of their non-dialogue.

The wound around which all of them live, even the absent ones, is that of the title: abandonment. The one suffered by his father as a child. What becomes everyone's DNA, a hereditary and inevitable relational disorder. After all, denying yourself to others, abandoning them – even without walking away – is the first self-defense from abandonment. The family war (“My brother and I grew up in a constant state of battle”) starts from there. And it is transmitted: the next abandonment will be the separation of brother and sister. That in that torture chamber, in that lifeless cage of their house of silence they had found warmth in each other's arms, beyond the limits of what is possible and what is “permissible”. Separated, distanced and then fled in opposite and coinciding directions: he becoming a heart surgeon (the body that tames itself starting from the heart, which he knows how to heal but on condition that he cuts in with the knife…), she giving herself over to a special neurosis that devoid of touch. Of the first relationship with, of the body.

All this incandescent matter is governed with sovereign skill by Durante, with his style as clear and bright as a scalpel, although supported by a sea of ​​compassion for humanity.
And the scalpel has to do with a very refined part of the narrative – indeed, it opens it, immediately giving us the body as landscape and set and crime scene and object of the gaze: the reports concerning the bodies of people who died in “unclaimed” road. Silenced bodies, even those, deprived of history, relationships, names. Reports that have to do with the father's taxonomies and the daughter's compulsive obsessiveness, and their meeting only on foreign terrain. And which are perhaps a sort of great metaphor of literature: reconstruction of stories a posteriori, starting from minimal details, from the traces of bodies…

Durante's stories are always stories of accurate imprisonment and yet of possible releases. Of bonds of sophisticated, cruel perfection, yet of hidden resources, of redemptions starting from the body. To take back the body, the touch, the name (it is no coincidence that we only learn that of the protagonist at the end). Life, then.