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.