Surely Not Another Blog about That Same Book…

I’ve never read anything quite like it.

That, in itself, is saying something. Domenico Starnone’s First Execution starts out like a Mediterranean crime noir by Jean-Claude Izzo and then four chapters into the story the author stops the novel and removes the sequence you’ve just read. From then on, you’re not only reading a crime thriller, you’re reading a novel about the writing of a crime thriller. Some sequences are done twice. Some expositions are done in several ways. At one point, you go back to the original outline. And when the violent, bloody murder happens two-thirds of the way through the book, well, the bloodbath is the murder of a chicken.

  Yes, I’m talking about one of those dumb birds killed by the zillions every day, the kind of killing that hardly matters because the victims are so unimportant, birds that were formerly neck-wrung by a generation of our grandmothers who never thought twice about it. Um, let’s just say it’s a killing you’ll never forget. Boy, does Starnone know how to make his point!

  I actually found First Execution more satisfying than the classic Italian novel it most closely resembles, Italo Calvino’s On a Winter’s Night a Traveller, which it seems to echo. For one, it’s got genuine suspense, because you care about the old narrator. Then there’s Starnone’s political ferocity. His elderly professor has such a passionate yearning for an end to oppression that the novel develops an angst, where Calvino’s meta-novel comedy remains mostly play and wit. I’m still shocked and pondering Starnone’s ending. Unless I’m misreading it, the author is about to be taken away and killed. Dang, there I go, giving away more surprises. Oh, well, there are still plenty more. I haven’t said a word yet about…

Shut up, Nick.

This will be our March selection at University Book Store in Seattle. I can’t think how another title could top it. My first impulse is to immediately read it over again, and see if the revelations in the last few chapters explain the beginning. If only there were time enough to give every book the full amount of time it deserves!

  Well, it can’t happen this weekend, that’s for sure. I’ve got to lead an intelligent discussion of Jeanette Winterson’s Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit this Wednesday for the second selection of the Seattle Gay and Lesbian Book Club. Winterson isn’t exactly an easy author. Dang her, I made the mistake of only reading the first half of the book, being blown away by it, and choosing it without finishing it. Never again. I found the second half quite difficult. And what’s with all these Biblical chapter names and inserted fairy tales? I’ve got my work cut out for me.

How I regretted having to finish First Execution this morning. I read it in bed, slowly, savoring each page, making little gasps at the surprises and disturbing my cat. Within only 163 pages he creates characters I care about, a labyrinth of a plot, and plenty of trap doors swinging open under your feet. Personally, he utterly endeared himself to me by referring to Sandro Veronesi as a fellow author. Veronesi happens to be the author of one of my all-time international delights, his novel, The Force of the Past, an exhilarating comic tour de force.

  Oh, well. Time to set aside my love of Italian comedy. I’ve got to figure out how to lead an intelligent discussion of a difficult lesbian coming-of-age novel, and I’ve got four days to do it.

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About the Author:

Nick DiMartino is a university bookseller in Seattle, WA. He was a Booklist contributor from 2007 to 2009 and is the author of Seattle Ghost Story (1998) as well as numerous plays.

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