Niccolo Ammaniti, in his latest book "The Cross Roads" , portray a disturbing picture of the present day Italy. Heralded as the new voice of Italian Literature, this is the third book being translated to English, and the first book that I have read, of this writer.
Rino Zena, lives with his son Christiano, does odd jobs at a construction site and is an alcoholic with inflammable temperament. His other friends Danilo Apera , a middle aged divorcee ( wife leaves him after the tragic death of their daughter-chocking on a shampoo bottle cap) and Corrado Rumitz ( called as Quattro Formaggi after his favourite food), crippled after a huge electric shock, where he is almost electrocuted . The three some are contemplating a plan to rob a bank and to live a life of their dreams.
The story converge on one dreadful night. "It had only taken one night and everything has changed", Quattro Formaggi remembers the eventful night. Their meticulous planning of the act of robbery takes a setback as the region is flooded and the storm that hit the region has taken every thing out of control. The river is flooded, trees are uprooted, roads empty and the rain is relentless. Ideally, or in a filmy style , this is the best day for such an act. As Danilo waits for Quattro Formaggi, and Rino having second thought on the whole plan waiting for his companions to come over, preparing his excuse to differ the action, there is a gruesome murder takes place at the woods. Quattro Formaggi, driven by the image of Ramona, an actor from the American porn movie, attempts rape on Fabiana Ponticelli, a beautiful girl high on drugs and alcohol returning home from her friend's house. His inability to carry out his wishes ( as he visualised as in the porn flick) and the shame of his impotency gets him to commit the murder breaking her skull with a stone. Frightened and shocked by his act, he calls Rino for help. Blame it on the fate, Rino suffers brain haemorrhage while attempting to clear the body, collapsing at the same site, however manages to call his son just before getting into coma. Quattro Formaggi, fled the scene, worried, but quite relieved. Christiano, Rino's 13 yr old son manages to take his father home and calls for medical help, while managing to keep the dead body disposed in the swollen river. The Danilo, in the meantime grow desperate over the delay, sets of to do the robbery on his own, meeting a horrible death by crashing his vehicle to the wall.
The situation is now tense. The only person who can explain the story apart from the murderer is Rino, who is in coma in the hospital bed. Christiano thinks its his father who has committed the crime. The only person he can go to is Danilo, who is not taking his calls. There is also a Social Worker, who is working on Christiano's well being. He too goes through an eventful night. After an illicit affair with his friends wife, he hits an African migrant worker on his way back, almost killing him. His quick pact with God, seems to show result as the person lying on the road shows signs of recovery and miraculously gets up and escapes to the unknown.
While the story is about the adultery, rape, murder and cruelty, I guess , Ammaniti is trying to portray something beyond this. To me the highlight is the alienation of the individual from the society and the fragile family life. Each of the characters suffer from the rejection of their beloved. Rino is staying with his son, Danilo's wife is deserted him and stays with the owner of the shop where she works, Quattro Formaggi has his own frustration, and take refuge on porn movies. There is also the attractions to be rich, for those fancy cars , spending in shopping malls, as done by the rich. Christiano, in one spur-of-the-moment, takes a knife and flattens the bike tyre of one of the rich kids, an action he does not find any valid reasons for doing so. He accepts the repercussions without any ill feeling.
Having said that, the novel spent and focussed too many pages on the events of the night. The overall appeal of the book with respect to the build up take a back seat and the event and its descriptive nature seems to take control. "It wasn't me. It was God. I didn't want to do it, truly I didn't...It was God who made me do those things. It's nothing to do with me." as Quattro Formaggi, confesses to himself towards the end, the novel seems take its own course, as if driven be an external force. I read elsewhere that the book's Italian title is "Come Dio Commanda " roughly translated as ,"As God Commands". May be that explains it. However, there are elements of warmth and comradery among the tough, abrasive behaviour which the characters exhibit. Rino's only purpose of living is to provide better future for his son. He comes about as a loving father at heart. So is Danilo, living on the hope that one day he will be able to open a lingerie show room for his wife, and will live with her again.
Very contemporary book, depicting the current state of affairs in the modern Italy. Very detailed and very visual writing of events, mixed with sly humour, with subtle underlying soft emotions of the characters who project a rough exterior. An easy fast paced read, with very lively characters ( including those with passive participation), makes this book a good read. That makes the book different from the other so called 'thrillers'.