Thursday, October 6, 2011

Under the Teenage Tuscan Sun

Morning everyone! I have two reviews I will post today. Both are shorter works, clocking in around 100 pages or so each. First up is The Chill, by Romano Bilenchi, is one that I have had on my shelves for a while and read last week. It took some time and reflection, but this one- like a good red wine from Tuscany- has some great legs.

The wine comparisons don't stop there. Like big red wines, this book needs some time to breathe. It reads quickly, almost too quickly for such a short book. Before you know it, you're done. Immediately after finishing the book, my impressions were positive but shallow. Nothing about it sent me down any long roads of reflection. I'll try to avoid any plot synopsis since giving too much away here could ruin the book, but suffice to say Bilenchi shows the reader the experiences of one young man as he comes of age in Northern Tuscany in the 1950's.

The experiences are so detailed, so nuanced that upon finishing the book, I found little to relate to in this character. A week later, from a distance, the events have a more rounded universal quality. How many of us remember our first death? The pain of losing the first childhood friend? With all the white lies we tell out of civility or respect, do we not all still remember our first deceit? The shame, allure and wonder of an individual's sexual awakening? Bilenchi brings all of this and more to the reader in a way that manages to be both personal and somehow not.

Looking back, I find that I enjoyed this much like I came to enjoy great Tuscan wine. At first, I couldn't bring myself to get into the Super Tuscan rush so many were enjoying. I preferred my Vernaccia and my Chiantis without the blending- my unique individual grapes. Now, I find that I can appreciate the Super Tuscan for what it is, a blend of many grapes that reaches what some might call a more universal palate. Bilenchi's book may seem like the story of one young man, whose experiences in Italy connect solely to his location and time. If you let yourself become that young man, I think that you will find something more. He is you and he is me and he is the person next to you on the train, in the next lane over. His experience is the universal shift from child to adult.