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.

May 02, 2016
Michael Hudson – Gordon Long
Wall Street Has Taken Over the Economy and is Draining It
Paul Street
The Bernie Fade Begins
Ron Jacobs
On the Frontlines of Peace: the Life of Daniel Berrigan
Louis Yako
Dubai Transit
Bill Quigley
Teacher, Union Leader, Labor Lawyer: Profile of Chris Williams Social Justice Advocate
Patrick Cockburn
Into the Green Zone: Iraq’s Disintegrating Political System
Lawrence Ware
Trump is the Presidential Candidate the Republicans Deserve
Ron Forthofer
Just Say No to Corporate Rule
Ralph Nader
The Long-Distance Rebound of Bernie Sanders
Ken Butigan
Remembering Daniel Berrigan, with Gratitude
Nicolas J S Davies
Escalating U.S. Air Strikes Kill Hundreds of Civilians in Mosul, Iraq
Binoy Kampmark
Class, Football, and Blame: the Hillsborough Disaster Inquest
George Wuerthner
The Economic Value of Yellowstone National Park
Rivera Sun
Celebrating Mother Jones
Nyla Ali Khan
Kashmir and Postcolonialism
Mairead Maguire
Drop the Just War Theory
Weekend Edition
April 29, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
What is the Democratic Party Good For? Absolutely Nothing
Roberto J. González – David Price
Anthropologists Marshalling History: the American Anthropological Association’s Vote on the Academic Boycott of Israeli Institutions
Robert Jacobs
Hanford, Not Fukushima, is the Big Radiological Threat to the West Coast
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
US Presidential Election: Beyond Lesser Evilism
Dave Lindorff
The Push to Make Sanders the Green Party’s Candidate
Peter Linebaugh
Marymount, Haymarket, Marikana: a Brief Note Towards ‘Completing’ May Day
Ian Fairlie
Chernobyl’s Ongoing Toll: 40,000 More Cancer Deaths?
Pete Dolack
Verizon Sticks it to its Workers Because $45 Billion isn’t Enough
Moshe Adler
May Day: a Trade Agreement to Unite Third World and American Workers
Margaret Kimberley
Dishonoring Harriet Tubman
Deepak Tripathi
The United States, Britain and the European Union
Eva Golinger
My Country, My Love: a Conversation with Gerardo and Adriana of the Cuban Five
Richard Falk
If Obama Visits Hiroshima
Vijay Prashad
Political Violence in Honduras
Paul Krane
Where Gun Control Ought to Start: Disarming the Police
David Anderson
Al Jazeera America: Goodbye to All That Jazz
Rob Hager
Platform Perversity: More From the Campaign That Can’t Strategize
Pat Williams
FDR in Montana
Dave Marsh
Every Day I Read the Book (the Best Music Books of the Last Year)
David Rosen
Job Satisfaction Under Perpetual Stagnation
John Feffer
Big Oil isn’t Going Down Without a Fight
Murray Dobbin
The Canadian / Saudi Arms Deal: More Than Meets the Eye?
Gary Engler
The Devil Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Is Washington Preparing for War Against Russia?
Manuel E. Yepe
The Big Lies and the Small Lies
Robert Fantina
Vice Presidents, Candidates and History
Mel Gurtov
Sanctions and Defiance in North Korea
Howard Lisnoff
Still the Litmus Test of Worth
Dean Baker
Big Business and the Overtime Rule: Irrational Complaints
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail