"Three Light Years" by Andrea Canobbio

A love story of psychological and emotional depth. Italian author Andrea Canobbio weaves a fascinating tale here along with an interesting narrative framework. The story is told through the point of view of a son imagining his parents past in the years leading up to him being born. Being that the three years in which the story takes place is the recent past, the reader is under the assumption that the narrator is telling the story from his own middle aged years, well into the future.


Claudio and Cecilia are two doctors that work at the same hospital. Each day they meet for lunch at the hospital’s café and talk — mostly about work related things but sometimes they reveal a little about one another. Both Claudio and Cecilia are going through a rough patch in their lives. Claudio is divorced and still lives in the same building in which he grew up. His mother lives on a lower floor of the same building. Complicating matters, his ex-wife and her new husband also live in the same building. Claudio’s ex-wife is not out of his life entirely, often dropping in on Claudio’s mother who is in the beginning stages of dementia. Cecilia on the other hand is recently divorced and is trying to raise her young son and teenage daughter on her own.


Claudio first meets Cecilia when Cecilia brings her young son to the hospital because he hasn’t been eating. Claudio decides to pop in and talk to the boy, focusing on the boy’s interests in order to distract him and make him eat the hospital food that was given to him. It is only after this meeting that Claudio realizes that Cecilia is also a doctor at the hospital and from this point forward they began their daily lunches together. The more they talked, the more Claudio begins to fall for Cecilia. Cecilia on the other hand doesn’t seem to be interested in him but the longer they meet the more the two become attracted to one another. It is only after an afternoon tryst during an afternoon drive that it becomes apparent that there is “something” between the two.


However each is struggling with their own personal demons and issues, forcing each of them to keep a distance from one another and not taking the relationship any further along. They each hold vital information from each other and try to continue on as before, only meeting for their daily lunches at the hospital café. Then one day, Claudio arrives to find that Cecilia had brought her eccentric sister Silvia along, introducing her to Claudio who is a bit put off by this “intruder” and by the fact that after a year or so of meeting one another on a daily basis, only finds out then that Cecilia even had a sister. For some reason (which is never really explained) Cecilia leaves to go back to work, leaving Claudio and Silvia together for the remainder of their lunch hour. Claudio merely puts up with the eccentric Silvia, who goes on and on and on, never allowing Claudio a word in edgewise, and constantly bothering him about a book she wants him to read. However, this meeting proves to be a catalyst which will complicate their lives even more.


The narrative shifts at this point, showing the same story from Cecilia’s point of view. It is then we learn the complicated issues surrounding her life and are clued into the reasons why she’s been keeping a distance from Claudio, who she does actually feel something for. Once we are privy to the events in Cecilia’s life, the more we empathize with her and realize that perhaps Claudio is being a little selfish with regard to his own feelings. He yearns for more experience in life but cannot seem to let go of his past. Cecelia can’t seem to move forward and wrestles with her feelings regarding Claudio, consciously trying to avoid the truth about how she actually feels. It is just when she decides to accept it and move forward towards a more genuine relationship with Claudio that fate steps in and has other plans.


It is the simple story about two divorced doctors who can’t seem to allow one another to move forward in their lives, framed by the ruminations of the son imagining the circumstances of his own birth that takes this story to a different level. We aren’t sure exactly how much of it is true to life and how much of it is the conjecture of the narrator. And while we do eventually find out what the complicated circumstances were regarding the narrator’s birth, it is ultimately a little ambiguous as to his own rearing, referring to the three main protagonists as his “three parents”.


There are times when the story drags a little and there are moments when the past and present become a little confused within the narrative so the reader has to keep on their toes a bit. But for a psychological portrait of two individuals who struggle with affairs of the heart, it is quite insightful and it points out the fact that one can never truly know what’s going on in another’s life unless the lines of communication are open and one is willing to step out from behind the emotional barriers in which they sometimes hide. It is also a cautionary tale: strike while the iron is hot or risk losing something that was meant to bring one true happiness. 

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