The End by Salvatore Scibona
by Salvatore Scibona
I just finished The End by Salvatore Scibona and am having the same experience I had when I finished Sophie's Choice over thirty years ago: why should I try to write anything when there are books like this to read? Why even try? This book was published in 2008. I cannot fathom why it took me thirteen years to find it.
The End isn't for everyone (in more ways than one). I suppose no book is. It is by no means a beach read. You spend no time wondering whodunit. The prose is so dense, the descriptions so odd and perfect that I had to read it slowly, often out loud. I lost several days to nothing but reading. I spent a lot of time copying passages into my journal just to experience what it might have felt like to write so exquisitely (twelve pages of notes!).
Although I can't possibly do justice to what this novel is about, I will do my best with a plot summary (which is only tangentially what the novel is about):
On August 15, 1953, Rocco LaGrassa receives an excruciating piece of news. His son has died in a POW camp in Korea. It is the day of a tumultuous street carnival in Elephant Park, an Italian immigrant enclave in Ohio and on this day Rocco's many years of dogged labor, paternal devotion, and steadfast Christian faith are about to come to a crashing end.
He is the first of many characters we meet that day—an elderly abortionist, an enigmatic drapery seamstress, a teenage boy, a jeweler— following them dramatically into the heart of a crime that will twist all their lives. Against a background of immigration, broken loyalties, and racial hostility, we at last return to August 15, 1953, and see everything Rocco saw―and vastly more―through the eyes of these exquisitely drawn characters, each of whom will come to their own conclusion.
Here's just a few examples of Scibona's writing:
Describing Lina's impending marriage:
“She would met the man-in-waiting on Saturday. And if she accepted him—and she could not see why she would not accept him—then he would be the one, a month from now, for whose sake she would paint the case around herself and let him smash her.”
Then, in the same scene, Donna Costanza Marini, a kind of stand-in for Lina's absent mother, explains Lina's duties as a wife this way:
“And Donna Constanza, who always spoke aloud and rarely needed to speak with her face, nonetheless this time seemed to say with only the slightest raising of the lids of her eyes: Carmelina, it is this way. You must break. He will recline, perhaps even stinking of alcohol through his skin, and point to a piece of clothing you will be wearing. And you will take it off.”
Criminey! The declarative voice in that last sentence is devastating.
And finally, Mrs. Marini's satisfaction at the consequences for Lina of her marriage:
“Marriage had tapped the honey from Lina's blood, which was gratifying to see.”
Mrs. Marini left Italy without telling her parents and this is the description of her indecision—and the sense of talking herself into it—at the train station in Lazio:
“Stepping on and then back off the platform. Then turning and seeing that nobody else was waiting there for the train. Nobody else was checking the clock. To her right, the opening in the tree from where the train would come; to her left, the opening where it would go away. To leave now meant that this was the last picture she would have of the place in her mind, that she would always think of it as looking the way it did that afternoon, and her mother, father, sisters, brothers, aunts, as looking just the way they had at lunch that day. None of these people would ever die. They would be fixed in Lazio, in time. She would send no address. She would receive no news. To leave now was to keep them.”
This is the description of the jeweler, who ends up raping Lina (not a spoiler), when he first sees her crossing the bridge:
“How it thrills him to think of another person at last, and not of himself. To begin a sentence with she. To be awake.”
Gives me the heebie-jeebies.
Here's how Scibona describes Enzo receiving a letter from his father in Italy, a man he hasn't heard from in decades:
“A letter arrived in October, Enzo read it through at a glance. Then he read it over more slowly, while an invisible figure behind him wrapped its thick arm around his throat, crushing his windpipe, so that he felt the swell of blood in the eyes an the expulsive twisting of the stomach muscles and the strange jubilation of a man who is being strangled.”
This writing is so packed.
So, what to say? Not a fast read, not a beach read, not an easy read, not a mystery. A beautiful, complicated story about the bewilderment of being human, about having warring desires, about being compelled by motives we neither know nor understand, about how entwined we are. For three days I couldn't put it down.
You can buy The End at your local bookstore. If they don't have it in stock (likely), order it from them to support that community treasure. If, inexplicably, you have no local bookstore, and you don't have it in you to start one, you can order it online at Bookshop.org, Barnes and Noble and Amazon.
About Susan Edsall
Writing is how I make my way through the thicket of what we’ve made of this planet we’re on. It takes me a long time and lots of words. Social media mystifies me. How do so many people have so much to say, so quickly, and with such resolute certainty? Read more about Susan >