FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Celibacy Mischief

by CHARLES R. LARSON

Remember the punch line to Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint (1969)?  At the end of the novel, the psychiatrist finally says, “So.  Now vee may perhaps to begin.  Yes?”  There’s a similar gag near the end of Francesco Pacifico’s annoying novel, The Story of My Purity.  Piero Rosini, the main character and the narrator, goes to see a masseuse at the recommendation of an older male friend.  That friend tells him that he needs to make certain that the masseuse gives him a “happy ending.”  Thus, the orgasms at the end of Roth’s and Pacifico’s novels connect their two main characters—though in remarkably different ways.  Portnoy is on a quest for oral sex; Rosini turns down sexual opportunities because of his rigid Catholic upbringing and the fact that he won’t be unfaithful to his wife.

But we need to turn to the opening of Pacifico’s novel: “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 we can’t do without imagination.”

Rosini is both an outlier and an imaginative bundle of neuroses.  He’s 28 years old, married several years, and lives in Rome with his wife, Alice.  Problem is that he’s more interested in his sister-in-law, Ada, than his wife, with whom sexual relations have soured. Moreover, he’s an editor at a Catholic publishing house that publishes rather traditional (orthodox) stuff.  But then Rosini discovers a manuscript that argues that Karol Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II) was a Jew.  Rosini convinces the pacifico_USApublishing house to bring out the book called The Jewish Pope, and because of his fixation on his subject, he also begins to think that he is a Jew.  (Wasn’t it Jewish guilt that got Alexander Portnoy into his problems with sex?)  Dangerous territory, of course, because now his Catholic upbringing is fused with Jewish orthodoxy.  Rosini hardly knows where he’s going.

One thing is obvious.  He’s obsessed with sex.  He takes a temporary job with another religious publishing house in Paris, leaving Alice back in Rome. Women, drugs, masturbation, scatology.  There are women all around him who try to seduce him, but he remains celibate.  His older American friend tells him that all his problems come from his Catholicism and, to alleviate Rosini’s tensions, that friend, named Leo, begins calling the younger man with a Jewish name: “Look me in the face, Rosenzweil.  You follow a religion based on a crazy man.  This is why you’re crazy, Rosenzweil.  You’re crazy, you’re stressed, you’re bitter, you’re nasty, you’re sad.”  Leo is the man who will eventually tell Rosini to visit the masseuse.  Get some release, for Christ’s sake.

The time in Paris stretches on to a couple of years.  Still, he’s celibate, though women keep throwing themselves at him, demanding that he have sex with them.  But Rosini’s celibacy has been exacerbated—not improved—by his feelings that he’s no longer a Catholic but a Jew.  Finally, logic gets trumped as the thirty-year-old man rationalizes that if he is no longer Rosini (a Catholic) but Rosenzweil (a Jew), he is no longer bound by restrictions on his fidelity.  Then things get further complicated because, after Alice’s visit and her return to Rome, Ada shows up, opening up the earlier feelings that Rosini has repressed for her all along.

When I first mentioned Pacifico’s The Story of My Purity, I referred to it as an annoying novel, which it is.  But it’s also highly comic, sui generis (in spite of the parallels to Portnoy’s Complaint), and totally engaging.  I kept asking myself why I was so interested in this schlemiel who kept turning away the multiple offers for sex, who sometimes even lets women (who are not his wife) sleep with him, without engaging in sex.  In short, I kept reading—not because I assumed the crescendo of the story would be a wild sex scene—but because I was genuinely interested in Piero Rosini as a character.

That wait was well worth the time involved, because there’s an ending to The Story of My Purity unlike anything else I have ever encountered in fiction.  Absolutely stunning.  So give the novel a try.  I doubt if you will be annoyed by the time you reach the conclusion.  Plus, you have the benefit of Stephen Twilley’s wildly imaginative translation.

Francesco Pacifico: The Story of My Purity

Trans. by Stephen Twilley

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 292 pp., $26

Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University in Washington, D.C.  Email: clarson@american.edu.

 

 

 

 

Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University, in Washington, D.C. Email = clarson@american.edu. Twitter @LarsonChuck.

More articles by:
July 27, 2016
Richard Moser
The Party’s Over
M. G. Piety
Smoke and Mirrors in Philadelphia
Jeffrey St. Clair
The Humiliation Games: Notes on the Democratic Convention
Arun Gupta
Bernie Sanders’ Political Revolution Splinters Apart
John Eskow
The Loneliness of the American Leftist
Guillermo R. Gil
A Metaphoric Short Circuit: On Michelle Obama’s Speech at the DNC
Norman Pollack
Sanders, Our Tony Blair: A Defamation of Socialism
Claire Rater, Carol Spiegel and Jim Goodman
Consumers Can Stop the Overuse of Antibiotics on Factory Farms
Guy D. Nave
Make America Great Again?
Sam Husseini
Why Sarah Silverman is a Comedienne
Dave Lindorff
No Crooked Sociopaths in the White House
Dan Bacher
The Hired Gun: Jerry Brown Snags Bruce Babbitt as New Point Man For Delta Tunnels
Peter Lee
Trumputin! And the DNC Leak(s)
David Macaray
Interns Are Exploited and Discriminated Against
Ann Garrison
Rwanda, the Clinton Dynasty, and the Case of Dr. Léopold Munyakazi
Brett Warnke
Storm Clouds Over Philly
Chris Zinda
Snakes of Deseret
July 26, 2016
Andrew Levine
Pillory Hillary Now
Kshama Sawant
A Call to Action: Walk Out from the Democratic National Convention!
Russell Mokhiber
The Rabble Rise Together Against Bernie, Barney, Elizabeth and Hillary
Jeffrey St. Clair
Don’t Cry For Me, DNC: Notes From the Democratic Convention
Angie Beeman
Why Doesn’t Middle America Trust Hillary? She Thinks She’s Better Than Us and We Know It
Paul Street
An Update on the Hate…
Fran Shor
Beyond Trump vs Clinton
Ellen Brown
Japan’s “Helicopter Money” Play: Road to Hyperinflation or Cure for Debt Deflation?
Richard W. Behan
The Banana Republic of America: Democracy Be Damned
Binoy Kampmark
Undermining Bernie Sanders: the DNC Campaign, WikiLeaks and Russia
Arun Gupta
Trickledown Revenge: the Racial Politics of Donald Trump
Sen. Bernard Sanders
What This Election is About: Speech to DNC Convention
David Swanson
DNC Now Less Popular Than Atheism
Linn Washington Jr.
‘Clintonville’ Reflects True Horror of Poverty in US
Deepak Tripathi
Britain in the Doldrums After the Brexit Vote
Louisa Willcox
Grizzly Threats: Arbitrary Lines on Political Maps
Robert J. Gould
Proactive Philanthropy: Don’t Wait, Reach Out!
Victor Grossman
Horror and Sorrow in Germany
Nyla Ali Khan
Regionalism, Ethnicity, and Trifurcation: All in the Name of National Integration
Andrew Feinberg
The Good TPP
400 US Academics
Letter to US Government Officials Concerning Recent Events in Turkey
July 25, 2016
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
As the Election Turns: Trump the Anti-Neocon, Hillary the New Darling of the Neocons
Ted Rall
Hillary’s Strategy: Snub Liberal Democrats, Move Right to Nab Anti-Trump Republicans
William K. Black
Doubling Down on Wall Street: Hillary and Tim Kaine
Russell Mokhiber
Bernie Delegates Take on Bernie Sanders
Quincy Saul
Resurgent Mexico
Andy Thayer
Letter to a Bernie Activist
Patrick Cockburn
Erdogan is Strengthened by the Failed Coup, But Turkey is the Loser
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail