Thursday, September 22, 2011

Quiet Chaos

Grief is a universal emotion. No matter your nationality, gender, job, or any other defining trait, at some point in our lives, we all confront the fact loved ones die. While the emotion is the same, how that grief expresses itself differs by person. Some may sink into depression, others turn to rage, and others become numb with shock. But some suppress their sorrow; they bury it and become absorbed with other aspects of their lives.

That is the response Pietro Paladini, the protagonist of Italian author Sandro Veronesi's 2005 novel Quiet Chaos (the version I read was translated by Michael F. Moore). The novel begins with him and his brother Carlo rescuing two women from drowning after a day of surfing. They return to their beach house to find Pietro's fiance Lara dead. Although they were merely days away from being married, Pietro and Lara have a 10-year-old daughter, Claudia, and months after Lara's death, Pietro is seeing her off on her first day of school. He winds up spending the whole outside her school, away from the chaos his job and his company's impending merger, and it allows him to put his own grief on hold. The days turn into months, and he remains outside the school. Soon, others venture to Pietro - co-workers, bosses, his sister-in-law, his brother - to unload their own problems on him.

Written in a first-person perspective from Pietro's point of view, the plot acts more like a series of vignettes in which Pietro interacts with all these characters rather than any overarching narrative. He discusses his history with them, describes how they look, and analyzes his conversations with them. It doesn't sound exciting (especially given that the location hardly changes), but Pietro is a fairly insightful character with an ironic sense of humor.

Just staying inside Pietro's thoughts and seeing how the others relate to him is pretty compelling. He's not very emotive; his manner is rather straightforward, and he's fairly passive for a protagonist. After all, the other character go to him, but it seems to be strategy on Veronesi's part. This is a man who has just suffered a loss, and in a sea of troubles and turmoil in his life, he has retreated emotionally and literally into this quiet little oasis that is constantly invaded by others seeking to offload their anxieties onto someone else. Ultimately, the novel concludes when Pietro realizes he must confront his own and his daughter's grief and leave the bubble he's created.

Quiet Chaos is a thoughtful, compelling book that explores the complexities and contradictions of one man's relationships. It's something I would like to read again sometime.

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