The last section, 'My Mother,' is written in exquisitely spare, tender prose. (Elizabeth Harris, here especially, translates with a light, graceful touch.) ... If the male writer’s goal is to neither render judgment on his female characters nor reduce them to stereotype, 'is there anything left?' It’s a telling question for both subject and author, the former trying to do the women he loves justice, the latter attempting, for perhaps the first time, to work in a sincere, rather than satirical, mode. Pacifico finds his answer in a kind of wistful reportage, striving not to interpret these women but simply to portray them ... Pacifico seems to have passed out of purgatory and into a less damning realm, one in which human flaws are to be exposed but also pitied, not mocked.
Although Pacifico’s language, fluidly and effectively translated by Elizabeth Harris, is lovely and his sense of dramatic momentum is strong, Marcello isn’t a compelling character. The Women I Love aims to satirize 'the neurotic, obsessive, childish point of view of the typical male narrator.' We know this from its tone and also because these are Marcello’s words; he is walking us through his own pitfalls even as he insists he is avoiding them. And that’s exactly the problem. The novel duplicates the voice it ironizes, operating as if the self-aware meta-commentary makes up for its lack of depth or new insights. Those introspective monologues about men writing about women function like stage winks, trapping Marcello between being a well-drawn character and representing a certain type of character ... A good satire both engages in and pokes fun at the conventions and tropes of its target. A great one invents something new in the process. The Women I Love sets its sights on all the sad young literary men, but for all the accuracy of its scope, it only aims and never fires.
... both an exemplar of metafiction and an impish commentary on the Americana masculinity-forward novel of mid-century ... There are drawbacks. The book’s conceit — from the present tense of the title to the constant self-reflexivity of the narration — feels forced at times, as the parenthetical (and, sometimes, even the bracketed sub-parenthetical) aides grow somewhat tedious as Marcello takes space to update us on his life since the time of writing or his editorial philosophy. Even his obsession with sneakers, mentioned no less than a half dozen times in the opening, relatively brief chapter alone, feels more artifice than actuality, more characterization than character. The calculated feel remains throughout, leaving the reader only to guess as to where the balance of intention falls, and to venture ahead ... As a seasoned novelist, however, Pacifico knows how to play to his strengths ... Pacifico peppers his work with humor, wit, and even occasional pathos as we learn his life story. One perhaps wishes he had made the choice, at times, to shy away from his self-interruptive asides to spend more time on that physical Roman world he knows and writes so well ... A difficult novel to make sense of, it is an interesting, amusing, and fast-flowing work, but one that perhaps never quite finds its center of gravity. By the end, the most salient point made by The Women I Love is a proof that constructing a book to refract around the negative spaces of an earlier age and of a marginal form is rather difficult. There’s an absence here, a conviction missing from the raison d’être that saps it of propulsion, unity, gravitas ... This is, to be sure, a bold work. Perhaps not in technique or style, but in narrative and in form. With its usurpation of the masculine-literary convention and its constant attempts to explore the depths of the metafictional whirlpool, Pacifico’s latest effort does not lack for confidence. And while oftentimes this conviction is both well-earned and well-used, there are more than a few who will perhaps find reason enough to get out of the water. Ultimately, The Women I Love spends so much time exploring what it isn’t that the reader struggles to find out what it is, even as the amusing story of an amusing man falls into shape around the evolving forms of novelistic convention and societal change.