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Quiet Chaos by Sandro Veronesi

Published in translation by Ecco on April 12, 2011; first published in 2005.

After Lara, the mother of his child, unexpectedly dies while Pietro is at the beach saving the life of a drowning stranger, Pietro spends his days in his car outside his daughter’s school, contemplating the quiet chaos of children spilling out of the building, experiencing an almost euphoric relaxation that has taken the place of grief.  A good bit of the novel takes place in Pietro’s mind as, in his thoughts, he justifies the affairs he had before Lara died, considers his absent feelings of loss, judges the friends and co-workers who visit him in his parked car and is judged by Lara's sister, with whom he had a fling before he met Lara.  Pietro is an executive in the Milan office of a cable television company that is undergoing an international merger, creating another element of chaos as his boss is sacked, but Pietro -- despite daily visits from company officers and employees -- is indifferent to the workplace turmoil, finding peace and tranquility in the park adjacent to the school, where he engages in amiably superficial conversation with the woman who takes her golden retriever for a daily stroll and plays a recurring game with a Down’s Syndrome child whose mother is taking him to physical therapy sessions. 

There’s something seductive about Sandro Veronesi’s prose, something that drew me in and held my attention even when nothing much was happening.  Other than the early scene in which Pietro and his brother save two women from drowning, there is little action in Quiet Chaos.  There is, instead, a good bit of observation and contemplation.  Pietro listens to Radiohead and decides that the few lyrics he can understand are meant for him, messages from Lara.  He begins to see himself as a symbol of pain, to see his car as a wailing wall without the wall, a fixture planted in front of the school so that others, imagining his sorrow, can feel they are sharing their own suffering with him.  The world happens all around him -- his daughter takes dance lessons, a stranger makes lunch for him, a new car parked by the school is damaged in two different accidents, a co-worker disappears after mistaking the CD drive in his laptop for a cup-holder -- and Pietro stands apart from it all.  One of the few times Pietro is “in the moment” comes during a passionate encounter with a woman (an extended, wonderfully written scene that is nonetheless quite graphic; readers who are turned off by scenes of that nature should stand warned) and even then Pietro suddenly becomes aware that he’s “in the moment,” thereby transforming himself from actor to observer.

For a meandering novel that is in many ways quietly chaotic, the ending offers a surprising amount of resolution and closure. While on its surface Quiet Chaos is about a man coming to terms with his life after his significant other’s death, there’s a lot going on here, more than I am able to articulate in a brief review.  I expect that additional meaning will creep into my consciousness as I continue to think about this fine novel.  Readers who are looking for an action-filled plot will likely be disappointed by Quiet Chaos, but I appreciated Sandro Veronesi’s strong, vividly detailed writing, his intense characters, and his illuminating ideas.  When I finished the novel I pondered whether to give it my highest recommendation but it keeps nagging at me, I keep thinking about it, and on the strength of its impact on my thoughts alone I’ve decided it deserves to be highly recommended. 


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