This is Italian author Fabio Bartolomei’s debut novel and it is a hilariously entertaining read. There have been a lot of interesting, original, fiction coming out of Italy over the past two decades and Bartolomei’s “Alpha Romeo 1300 and Other Miracles” definitely joins the ranks of this seeming “new wave” of Italian fiction, brought to you in English by the great folks over at Europa Editions. This is comedy, pure and simple, but comedy with an interesting point to make.
As I was reading this highly entertaining novel I couldn’t help but see this eventually becoming a film. All the elements are there for one. The visuals of the southern Italian landscape, the quirky cast of characters, the unique plot. It’s almost a no brainer and I’m going to keep my eye out for it because there’s no doubt in my mind that it will eventually be made.
Diego, Claudio and Fausto are three forty-something “losers”, each struggling to make ends meet in their respective jobs. Diego, a car salesman; Claudio, a manager of a barely surviving family-owned supermarket; and Fausto, a late night informercial host who sells watches. Although the novel opens with each character having their own introductory chapter, it is Diego’s eyes with which we follow the story. Diego is living with a woman nearly half his age, his father is dying and his job is one monotonous day after another at the car dealership. Deciding that he had fallen out of love with his young girlfriend he ends his relationship and spends the next few months caring for his sick father. After his father dies, he decides that he wants to do something different with his life and the idea occurs to him to buy a piece of property in a small town around Naples. When he arrives at the property, he discovers two other men - Claudio and Fausto - interested in buying the same dilapidated old farmhouse. This unlikely trio agree to go into business together, buying the property and turning it into an agritourist bed and breakfast.
Diego and his two new friends, each with personality quirks of their own - Claudio is a milktoast, taking to fainting spells and worrying about the endless ways one can be hurt out in the world; and Fausto, a goateed, tattooed, right winger who doesn’t shy away from expressing his feelings about the current state of the country, soon learn that the work involved in renovating this old farmhouse is far beyond their capabilities. Fausto enlists one of his friends, Sergio - a former left wing revolutionary - to join them in helping their project along.
Being that the property is in the middle of Camorra country, they are soon approached by an old “camorrista” named Vito, who arrives on the property in his green Alfa Romeo Giulia 1300 (which has a defective radio that can only be shut off by banging the dashboard) and decides to inform the three hapless friends that they would benefit greatly by agreeing to pay a little protection money in order to keep trouble away from their new business venture. Sergio, still believing in his old left wing ideals does not like the idea of the little man being exploited, decides to take matters into his own hands and knocks the old man out. Realizing what they had done and fearing the consequences, they decide to lock the old man up in the basement of the farmhouse, holding him captive. In order not to draw any suspicion from the other camorristas that would no doubt follow up on the missing Vito, they decide to bury the car on the property - it’s defective radio, tuned to a classical music station - intermittently turning on from beneath the ground. It is from this point on that the hysterics begin as they struggle to bring their dream bed and breakfast into life, as a growing group of quirky characters enter the story one by one.
I don’t want to give away anything but I will say things do not go the way you would expect them to and with each new roadblock, a new “miracle” occurs to help these three unlikely business men through their trials and travails.
This is a highly entertaining and hilarious story about three middle aged men who decide that they are going to take the necessary steps to improve their lives, to break away from the “expected” roles in society and make their dream true, come hell or high water and we watch each character grow and become more self-aware as the novel progresses. It is also a comedic look on the stranglehold organized crime still has on Italian society and how exploitation of the “little guy” doesn’t necessarily always come from above.
This is surreal, Italian comedy in the tradition of some of the classic comedic Italian films such as "Divorce, Italian Style" (or "Ghosts Italian Style" for that matter). If you find yourself entertained by this sort of comedy, then this is a book worth checking out. Highly recommended.