What Chasm? What Mist?

A favorite among the books I’ve read this summer is the novel The Solitude of Prime Numbers, by Paolo Giordano. The narrative follows the entwining lives of an Italian girl and boy, Alice and Mattia, from childhoods marked by unexpected trauma to the unfolding consequences of those events into their early adulthood.

Through their separate traumas, Alice and Mattia become akin to prime numbers, divisible only by themselves, alienated from family, possible friends or lovers. When they meet as adolescents, they sense the depth of their individual isolations, are attracted to each other because of it, and yet they cannot quite, as “prime numbers,” make connection. This essential dilemma, of attraction and repulsion, fuels the forward motion of Giordano’s novel.

I’m especially intrigued how Giordano depicts ephemeral emotional landscapes through metaphor. In one passage, Denis, a tag-along friend of Mattia’s who wishes for more than friendship, suffers this unrequited attraction to the point where “he had learned to respect the chasm that Mattia had dug around himself. Years previously he had tried to jump over that chasm, and had fallen into it. Now he contented himself with sitting on the edge, his legs dangling into the void.”

Denis, labeling Mattia’s emotional distance as a chasm, finally imagines himself at its border, and by accepting its imagined reality, dangling his metaphoric legs over the metaphoric edge, manages to claim a small version of intimacy.

In another passage, Alice, now an adult and still pining for Mattia, who has somehow escaped her, is coming to the end of her brief marriage with Fabio and realizes that she can recall only a few of her husband’s many kindnesses: “there had been an infinite number of which Alice no longer remembered, because the love of those we don’t love in return settles on the surface and from there quickly evaporates.”

Giordano works a lovely magic here (and in many, many more passages such as this). He understands that metaphor isn’t a trick–or if a trick, it’s a transcendent one. The metaphors we create for ourselves can illuminate a brief patch of what roils hidden within, can provide a GPS for navigating private geographies.

Photo, “”Rising Mist,” by Jane Voorhees

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August 25th, 2010 by admin