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LaurenBDavis

LAUREN B. DAVIS

Author of AGAINST A DARKENING SKY, THE EMPTY ROOM, OUR DAILY BREAD, and others. Find out more at www.LaurenBDavis.com. I read as if my sanity depended upon it.. . . oh, wait, it does! Snort.

Earthquake I.D.

Earthquake I.D. - John Domini John Domini has written a dense, beautiful, deeply thoughtful novel. What a pleasure it is to read a book written by someone who not only has a profound regard for the power of words (his descriptions of landscape are splendid), but also a respect for great story-telling and an enormous sense of compassion for the human condition. Set in Naples, Italy, in the aftermath chaos of a major earthquake, the Lulucita family arrive in the city, ostensibly to offer aid to undocumented, already-marginalized citizens (mostly Sub-Saharan refugees), now turned quake victims living in tent cities. Almost upon arrival, the family is mugged and their documents stolen. The Earthquake I.D.s of the title are replacement, temporary passports issued by the powers that be, and the central metaphor for the novel. We are all, Domini seems to be saying, people without permanent places, or even permanent identities.The point of view is that of Barbara Lulucita, often referred to as "the mother," a woman seriously considering ending her marriage. Domini does a terrific joy of digging deep in the psyche of a woman in crisis. It's pitch-perfect -- the confusion, guilt, anguish, rage, passion and sorrow, all mixed together. The setting is also perfectly described and utilized, becoming a symbol for the tensions and chaos in the hearts and minds of the novel's characters. This is a brilliant shape-shifter of a novel. It is at times metaphysical: Paul, the middle son apparently has the power to heal by the laying on of hands, beginning with healing his father whose head is cracked wide open in the opening scenes. People follow him around, offering him holy trinkets to bless, pressing their lips to the windows of a car he rides in. He becomes an icon, and such things can be dangerous.It is at times theological: Barbara, devoutly Catholic befriends a priest and their conversations are complex and nuanced. (It should be noted that the rhythm of the prose almost sounds as if it's been written by someone who speaks Italian as their mother tongue, and far from being irritating, for me this added to the sense of cultural laying at work.) It is at times a meditation on culture clash: consider the jarring juxtaposition between the Lulucita's white-bread and mini-van Connecticut background and the teeming, messy, malodorous tent city. Consider the disturbing failed adoption of a Mexican teenager with marks on her body indicating she may have been kept in a cage -- and how the girl sexually fondles the boys in the family. Consider, too, that even though the Lulucitas find themselves battered and without I.D. as do the refugees, they are never treated like refugees, but always with the preference of assumed privilege, which of course only deepens the chiaroscuro. At other times it is political: the displaced refugees, the toxicity of mass media, NATO corruption, the haves and have-nots.And it is also a novel of family secrets and loyalties and the heart of a woman.Okay, SMALL criticisms -- the title and the cover. The cover doesn't do the book justice -- bland and unappealing, and unlikely to seduce a buyer in a bookstore. Similarly, I don't like the title, finding it less-than-evocative. There is a phrase Domini uses early on in the book to describe Naples; he calls it a "city of prayers." All the way through, I couldn't help but wish he'd used that for the title. Domini might not have had much choice in these things, but I'm just saying...the work deserves better, in my humble opinion.In the end, nothing is simple in this novel, and the complexity can be dizzying, but the pleasure is undeniable. Domini seems to be asking the reader to consider his/her own response to world events, to privilege and our responsibilities to each other. I, for one, know I'll be thinking about this novel for a long time to come. Well done.