...the leanest, most understated and emotionally powerful novel by Domenico Starnone ... TiesThe Days of Abandonment, in other ways an interlocking puzzle piece or another voice in a larger conversation ... in Ties, no one has the last word. All the different truths are set before us, each given its due, each character fully realized, with the empathy and insight of a gifted novelist. Starnone’s prose here is highly skilled without calling attention to itself. In this novel, unlike some of his others, the cleverness doesn’t obstruct the emotional impact ... I cannot think of two novelists writing today whose recent books are in such clever and complicit conversation as those of Starnone and Ferrante.
Ties is one half of a collaboration far more intriguing than co-authorship of individual books: a riveting dialogue on marriage conducted, on the page, between one novelist and another ... Ties is puzzle-like, architectural, a novel ingeniously constructed to conceal family secrets and then excavate them one by one ... Ties not only examines the male mentality that allows his abandonment to occur; it also lays bare the complicity between husband and wife in perpetuating the lie of their marriage.
Starnone’s engrossing and masterful story of the Minori family, told from a trifecta of perspectives — the betrayed wife’s letters in the opening section, the doddering husband’s viewpoint in the middle, the closing section recounted by the downtrodden adult daughter — is almost too impeccable a work. Shaped and polished as meticulously as an Etruscan urn, no portion, no narrative ligament, no single word feels out of place ... Using the simple conceit of infidelity and the protagonist’s futile attempts to transcend the past, Starnone manages to capture a glimpse of a human emotional universe much larger, far grander, and more intimidatingly incomprehensible than one could have imagined ... What’s instantly noticeable about the book is the extent to which Ties is in conversation with Elena Ferrante’s early novel The Days of Abandonment. Both stories take place in Naples; both books are the same manageable read-in-one-sitting length. In both, a woman and her children are abandoned for no apparent reason by a man of good standing.
Starnone’s work is subtle and nuanced, and, in Lahiri’s elegant translation, his prose is fluid and clear. It is by no means comprehensive. You will not hear from all sides; you will hear hardly anything from Lidia, Aldo’s 'other woman,' for example. The book is a snapshot, a sliver of a marriage. It is as vivid and devastating as anything you will read this year. A slim, stunning meditation on marriage, fidelity, honesty, and truth.
Aldo tells his side of the affair. The problem is that he tells and tells, displaying little self-awareness and seemingly expecting sympathy he may not have earned. Anna, Vanda and Aldo’s daughter, middle-aged and scarred, like her feckless brother, by the breakup and the resumed marriage, is no picnic either—angry, manipulative, greedy. Though Starnone’s willingness to let his characters—particularly Aldo—incriminate themselves can be read as writerly confidence, the novel, despite being slim, feels long.