THE WORST INTENTIONS by Alessandro Piperno, translated by Ann Goldstein (Europa), 320 pages, $14.95 paper. Rating: NNN
Forget about Jewish guilt. Lately, young writers of the Hebrew persuasion have been unleashing novels that stare the Almighty down in outrageous ways. Shalom Auslander's Foreskin's Lament, for example, boldly trashes his Orthodox upbringing.
And now, in The Worst Intentions, Italian first novelist Alessandro Piperno - with excellent assistance from his translator, Ann Goldstein - gives us a vivid, and not so pretty, picture of the post-Holocaust Italian Jewish community.
Guilt may have gone out the window, but there's no lack of neuroses in Piperno's protagonist, Daniel, grandson to textile magnate Bepy, who lost his fortune thanks to a falling-out with his enterprising partner. Bepy's a powerhouse of a character, introduced in the first chapter as someone who, on hearing that he has a tumour, worries that he'll never fuck again.
Daniel's inherited his grandfather's erotic obsessions - hence critics have compared the book to Portnoy's Complaint - and has all kinds of problems figuring out where he fits into the world and how to deal with his preoccupation with Gaia, granddaughter to the family's business nemesis.
Two things make this book matter. For starters, this is a rare glimpse into the Italian Jewish community still recovering from the trauma of the Holocaust. Bepy, himself a survivor, typifies the deep denial that beset Jewry in Europe - and everywhere else, actually - after the war.
Way more important is the fact that Piperno can really write. His elaborate sentence structure put to the service of some very explosive content - his uncle's immigration to Israel and support of the Likud party; the excesses of Jews who pursued wealth with a vengeance, literally, after the war; Daniel's sexual obsessions - is entirely original.
Unfortunately, Piperno spends most of his energy creating believable characters and not enough time giving them anything to do.
The Worst Intentions has almost no plot. But you've never read anything like it.