Coffee Rhetoric: Décadence

October 04, 2007


I'm a huge fan of the reading. Yes, in-between moments of self-indulgence, lamenting my non-existent dating life, self-absorbency, moisturizing, exfoliating, glossing, imbibing and the like, I manage to squeeze in time for some voracious reading. I've consumed some really tasty literary fodder the past couple of months-- but none as titillating as-- (my favorite author)-- Andrea Lee's latest offering, Lost Hearts in Italy. I finally stopped being a coward, and about three weeks ago went down to the public library's main branch, downtown, and got a new library card. A looming balance haunted my previous bibliothecal existence and so I stayed a way. The fine wasn't particularly hefty. It was under 20 dollars, in fact-- (some videos I'd returned late), but the idea of having a library fine intimidated me... Okay, fine, I just didn't relish having to pay one! In any event, I'm happy to report that in the lieu of the library's recent renovations and updated databases, my account was purged, apparently. And so I retained a brand spanking new card administered to me sans having to pay a dime. Loves it. Hungry for more Andrea Lee, who's previous offerings: The Russian Journal (non-fiction, memoir), Sarah Phillips, and Interesting Women (a collection of short stories)-- left me wanting more, and so I checked out her latest aforementioned novel, Lost Hearts in Italy. Andrea Lee, an Ivy League educated black woman from Philadelphia, is an expatriate living abroad in Turin, Italy (for well over ten years)-- where she raises her two sons and is married to an Italian baron named Ruggero Aprile di Cimia. They all live in a large, old, funky fresh castle. Yes, what I fancy my life to be. In any event, perhaps due to Lee's own circumstance, she goes the route of Henry James. Her characters tend to revolve around women of color (usually) living successful, sophisticated, and glamorous, trans-Atlantic lives abroad, while managing relationships with grandiloquent foreign men, who sweep the heroines off their feet. Lost Hearts... has all those same elements but is even more decadent and tragic, as it charts the disintegration of a young American couple's happy (interracial) marriage, due to the wife's inexplicable act of adultery with a surly, cold older Italian billionaire named Zenin. Who is seemingly fixated by the idea of possessing the protagonist's (Mira Ward) whole being. Needless to say, the affair reaches a crescendo and it consumes Mira, culminating in the bitter demise of her marriage and family. Lee's characters seem to encapsulate themselves in a life of grandeur and material success. Her descriptive, almost prose like descriptions of Italy's sumptuous locales makes it easy to get lost and wish you were somehow involved, if only to be in the luscious European backdrop of baroque furnishings and fancy almost hedonistic getaways ...
Heres an excerpt:

The call comes three or four times a year. Always in the morning, when Mira's husband and children have left the house, and she is at work in her study, in the dangerous company of words - words that are sometimes docile companions and at other times bolt off like schizophrenic lovers and leave you stranded on a street corner somewhere. There are moments when Mira, abandoned in the middle of a paragraph, sits glaring furiously out past the computer at the chestnut trees in her hillside garden and the industrial smudge of Turin below in the distance and the Alps beyond. Then the phone rings, and she breaks her own rule to grab it like a lifeline. And eerily enough, as if from hundreds of miles away he has sensed her bafflement, her moment of weakness, it is often Zenin, a man who once wrecked part of her life.

Oh, not Zenin himself, not at first. His billionaire's paranoia is too strong for that. He never calls her on a cell phone, always from his office, never from one of his houses, from his yacht, from his jet. The call is placed by any one of a bevy of young Italian secretaries, the kind who announce their names in bright telemarketers' voices. Pronto, it's Sabrina. Marilena. Or Veronica. It's different each time, but always the kind of aspirational Hollywood-style moniker that in Italian sounds slightly whorish. ---