"Italian Affair’ compelling, annoying
What makes Laura Frasier’s book “An Italian Affair” compelling is she doesn’t disguise her pain and self-consciousness after her husband leaves her for his high school sweetheart.
What makes it annoying – at least to some readers – is her use of the second person. I wouldn’t have continued reading it if she hadn’t spoken at the Aspen Summer Words Literary Festival I attended in June.
Though the first paragraph starts off innocently enough with a fairy tale, it quickly moves to “You’re in another world… a place where you wouldn’t be worried about running into your husband, who left you after a year of marriage for an old girlfriend, at an intimate little restaurant in your neighborhood.”
I found the structure difficult to buy into, since it felt like she was telling me what “my” experience was, rather than sticking to her own.
Frasier wrote her memoir in the second person because that’s how it initially came out. Her editor had two concerns about the book: the first was the use of the second person. The second was that Frasier titled it “An Italian Affair” but didn’t include any passages about sex. So, Frasier rewrote the book in the first person and added sex scenes. But in the end, she returned to the second person (and kept the sex), she said at a June 22 talk at the Aspen Summer Words Literary Festival.
For her, writing in the second person came naturally. Writing about sex didn’t.
“I’m always jumping into things without realizing all the implications – going to Italy, having an affair, writing a book about it,” Frasier said in an interview with her publisher Random House. “… I am so fundamentally shy about sex – I come from a long line of Puritans – that I practically had to close my eyes and type when it came to those parts. I guess I thought maybe people would close their eyes when they started reading those parts.”
The beauty of Frasier’s writing is her poetic, sensual style. Her words flow from the page. And, her travels take readers not only to exotic places but also into her internal experiences. In this way, she brings readers into their own vicarious experiences.
“An Italian Affair” weaves its way through Italy, where she meets professor M, a married Italian who has a passion for life, love and apparently, blonde Americans. Though he is married (and somewhat pompous), the two have an extended love affair that takes them from the island of Ischia to San Francisco, Marrakech, Lago Maggiore, Stromboli and London. The couple immerses itself in sumptuous food and wine, lush gardens and vibrant streetscapes.
One question that arises, at least in my mind, is their rationale for having an affair – especially when her husband’s infidelities led to her marriage breakup. Frasier addressed the question in the Random House interview by saying:
“It is difficult to answer, but I would have to say that relationships are always more complicated than they seem. Nor are they very rational. In a perfect world, no one would ever cheat on their spouse, but we all know that it happens all the time…
“I think most marriages can, and do, survive a fling now and then. That’s human nature. One thing I admire about Europeans is that they tend to have discretion about those flings and never hurt their spouse with information they can gladly live without. The grand passions are the ones to worry about, and I think people have to be clear when something is undermining a whole life together. This isn’t to say that adultery is fine; I think it is probably a warning light that something is wrong with the relationship that needs to be attended to.”
Having affairs was perfectly normal for the professor, and for Frasier, the affair helped her recover from divorce.
But, where “An Italian Affair” leaves off is not the end of the story. If you read the book and want to know what happened with the professor and Frasier’s relationship, e-mail me and I’ll tell you. (Frasier divulged the information at the literary festival.
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