The Story of My Purity is the uproariously funny novel by Francesco Pacifico. Thirty years old and already trapped in a sexless marriage, Piero Rosini has decided to dedicate his life to Jesus. Novels and music were filling his head with bullshit; his bourgeois life in a fancy neighborhood had taken him far away from spiritual purity and the Lord's truth. So he's moved to an unfinished housing development on the outskirts of Rome and thrown himself into his work at an ultraconservative Catholic publishing house, editing books that highlight the decadence and degradation of modern society: among them, a book claiming that Pope John Paul II was secretly Jewish. Witty, irreverent and timely, The Story of My Purity is an unmissable new novel from a brand new voice in European fiction. Praise for The Story of My Purity: "And so Pacifico's book falls deliciously into our laps. One of the most talented writers of his generation, one of the few who takes words seriously. This is what one calls style". (Vanity Fair (Italy)). "Ho, ho and ho! Insanely funny and terrifically offensive, Francisco Pacifico's novel fell on my head like a bowling ball and knocked me the hell out. Among many other things, it's also a great updating of Roman life. Sure to be a modern Italian classic". (Gary Shteyngart). "With these viscerally honest and hilarious adventures of a young Roman struggling to free himself from the cynicism of Berlusconi's "bunga bunga" Italy and the moral absolutism of the Catholic church, Francesco Pacifico revives the Italian comic novel. The writing is ribald but never vulgar, extremely smart about friendship and sex but without pretension. You'll laugh aloud, want to hide your blushing face in the pillow, and argue with the author, all at once". (Marco Roth). Francesco Pacifico has written for a number of Italian publications, as well as for Rolling Stone and GQ, and has translated into Italian the works of Henry Miller, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dave Eggers, Will Eisner, and more. He lives in Rome. Stephen Twilley is associate editor at the online review Public Books and assistant editor at New York Review Books Classics. He is also the translator of Marina Mander's novel The First True Lie (2013).
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
Francesco Pacifico has written for a number of Italian publications, including Rolling Stone and GQ, and has translated into Italian the works of Henry Miller, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dave Eggers, Will Eisner, and more. He lives in Rome. Stephen Twilley is associate editor at the online review Public Books and assistant editor at New York Review Books Classics. He is also the translator of Marina Mander's novel The First True Lie (2013).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 the very last of the Mafiosi, but still part of the hierarchy, Evil’s lackey. Because he’d cheated on my mother ( I know even if I don’t have proof, as Pasolini had it), because he didn’t approve of my ultrapapist religious turn, because ever since I set my sights on becoming a modern saint, an intellectual martyr, he no longer knew how to deal with me or even, literally, how to talk to me.
From another point of view, he was just an old man, a sentimental old man, easily moved to tears, who wanted nothing more from life than to enjoy his family gathered round the table for a four-course dinner, and afterward, Super Light Camel in hand like an orchestra director’s baton, to watch his grandkids scampering about on the rugs, popping out of one door and immediately dashing through another, raising hell, while his three lovely daughters-in-law and his daughter, Federica, vestals of the household religion, conversed happily in groups of two.
And this was the scene on the other stage, which I took in at a glance as I turned, slice of panettone in hand: the custard-colored living room, the pin-striped wallpaper; Carlo in shirtsleeves and Fausto in a pea-green cashmere-blend sweater, smoking on the terrace with the rain and the pines shaking over the avenue behind them; their wives dressed in black with pearl necklaces, sitting on a satin settee, coffee in hand; three children, a girl and two boys (the one with the H’s had deserted me for his cousins), who scurried away from and then returned to their mothers, one dragging a plastic fire engine. On a pair of armchairs sat my sister, Federica, and my wife, Alice, all animated hand gestures and bright orange stockings, both women (Federica’s stockings sporting three bright stripes of color, her legs brushing up against Alice’s) a sharp contrast to the daughters-in-law in black. Federica, with her rounded shoulders, her knee-length chestnut-brown wool dress and ice-blue angora shawl, was a honeyed, unsettling pet of a woman with lots of wrinkles—she was thirty-six years old, seven years older than I was. That left Mamma behind the scenes in the kitchen, the barrista set to appear with the tray every two minutes to serve coffee, and my father center stage in his easy chair, meeting my gaze as he reached over to turn on a table lamp. With the light, the yellow pin-striped wallpaper suddenly lost its luster, as if oxidized; outside, intermittent rain stained the window ledges and tickled the glass.
Piercing the fourth wall, I went to join their performance, my gray suit in that composite chaos à la De Filippo making me the intruder in a coup de théâtre, the civil servant, the gravedigger, the bearer of bad news.
“Listen, Papa, I’d like to talk to you about work.”
“With me? What an honor.”
He’d taken his slippers off. He tapped a cigarette against its silver case. Placing the cigarette in his mouth, he brushed back the sparse white hair over his ears. He was wrapped in a blue cardigan like a sumo wrestler, tall and big-bellied. The cardigan took me back to my childhood. In his fifties he used to wear it under his jacket when he went to dinner with a bunch of yuppie socialists from Monte Mario, big fans of basketball and sailing.
He lights his cigarette, blows smoke, and stretches out; then with one hand he catches a passing grandkid, tells him, “Go and get us a chair, amore.” The child gives his cousin and sister a superior look and runs into the dining room, where he begins to grapple with a chair like a dockworker. I walk over and grab the chair from him; the child looks at his grandfather, who, cigarette in mouth, slips a hand into a cardigan pocket and pulls out a fifty-centesimi piece. The child runs to his grandfather’s hand, seizes the golden doubloon, and flees into another room, followed by the other two little ones, dumbfounded at the appearance of money.
“So, then, what’s on your mind? Cigarette?”
“No, I don’t smoke, no.”
“What do you mean, you don’t smoke? I thought you did.”
I didn’t like watching him smoke, him sucking on the cigarettes as if they were oysters.
“I wanted to tell you that…, to tell you about work. The thing is, I’m starting to look around, and I wanted—”
“Of course, of course. Rightly so.”
“Look, as I see it, Fede is keeping an eye on you.” He leaned forward with a confidential, knowing air, the tip of his cigarette glowing like a precious stone. “As I see it, Fede is trying to figure out what you’re up to at that … eccentric publishing house of yours … and as soon as she thinks you’ve got the right experience, she’ll introduce you to the right people, understand? It’s a matter of months, I’d say.”
My sister Federica was a writer whose books were brought out by a big publisher. The original plan, hatched when we were still close, was for her to get me into publishing as well. Before Holy Scriptures swept it away, literature was my life. My father had failed to pick up on this change in me and listened only to what he wanted to hear, the way winners do; he overlooked certain details because he was always looking ahead. In the Anglo-Saxon managerial language that he had cheerfully made his own, for him a problem was an opportunity. Papa was a true believer.
“You know very well,” he explained, “that before entrusting your brothers with paying jobs I made them toil for free until they showed me they really had the balls for it. Fede is doing the same thing with you; she’s waiting for you.”
Federica and I were no longer on speaking terms. Fede went out with married men, wrote about clitorises and theatrical salons; she thought I was a bigot. The bigot and the whore, that’s what our literary alliance came to. Ever since we were little, Mamma had endeavored to make us better than Carlo and Fausto, whose overly bourgeois and paternally influenced upbringing (tennis, five-a-side soccer, girlfriends from Parioli, not much reading) she had come to regret. Federica, the pedagogical masterpi...
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Book Description Penguin, 2014. Paperback. Book Condition: New. DISPATCHED FROM THE UK WITHIN 24 HOURS ( BOOKS ORDERED OVER THE WEEKEND DISPATCHED ON MONDAY) BY ROYAL MAIL. ALL OVERSEAS ORDERS SENT BY AIR MAIL. Bookseller Inventory # mon0000330663