[Reviewed by Bruce Roberts]
Several years ago, the brother of one of my wife’s students took his own life. The family, of course, was devastated, but his younger sister, in my wife’s class, seemed to forge right on. The mother would call, asking if the girl was distracted, emotional, falling behind, but no, she seemed to be operating normally, despite her brother’s death. Her grief—internalized—never appeared in public.
That grief takes many forms is a major theme of Quiet Chaos, a novel by Sandro Veronesi. The plot grows from one particular day in the life of Pietro Paladini, the main character; a day in which he nearly loses his life saving a drowning woman, then goes home to discover that his soon-to-be bride, the mother of Claudia, his ten year old daughter, has unexpectedly died.
He, of course, expects the worst reaction from Claudia, and to assure that he—a good father—will be there when she needs him, he decides to wait in his car across the street from her school as long it takes to see her through this toughest of times. And wait he does. Every day! He drops her off for school, parks the car, and waits until she reemerges at day’s end. She even begins waving out the window at him as she changes classes. What she doesn’t do though, is fall apart with grief.
Indeed, that seems left to him—if obsession and confusion are forms of grief. The narrative is first person, so essentially the whole book is one long interior monologue, and thus readers know everything about Pietro’s thoughts. And while the only physical sign of stress is his daily wait outside Claudia’s school, mentally he is a maelstrom of interweaving pressures.
Claudia, of course, is one. Also though, his company is being bought out so his job may end, his sister-in-law accuses him of never loving her sister, he realizes his brother is a drug addict, his father is retreating into dementia, he has wild sex with the lady he saved from drowning–the list could go on, and all these stresses build upon the parallel universe of friends and problems he’s created sitting in his car every school day.
Quiet Chaos has, I think, an understandable but odd ending, because the explosion of normal grief never comes—not for Pietro, not for Claudia. Readers are deep into his mental turmoil, liking him, liking the daughter, but waiting and waiting for all to be resolved in some cataclysm, some catharsis of emotion. But it never happens, and as a reader, I felt puzzled, disappointed, let down.
Still this a well-written novel with strong, likable characters, the 2006 winner of Italy’s Strega Prize for the best prose fiction of the year, and a good read—even if it leaves readers wondering.