"Bell'Antonio" by Vitaliano Brancati

Another Italian author that I had never heard of and wound up finding while browsing in my many trips to The Strand. "Bell'Antonio" is a story about "gallismo"---the Italian version of "Don Juanism." The protagonist, Antonio, is a man that simply drives all the women crazy. He had been away in Rome, having left his hometown in Catania, Sicily. Stories circulated about Antonio's prowess while he was living in Rome, becoming something of a local legend for both the macho men in the town as well as the women who desired to be with him. He returns to Sicily to marry a local girl, the beautiful and chaste Barbara. After three years of marriage, a scandal erupts throughout the town. It seems that even after three years of marriage, Antonio is...well....let's just say he doesn't live up to the legend. Not even close. This causes much dismay for his father, a man who prides himself on his sexual escapades in his early years. It causes great concern among Antonio's friends, who idolized him for the legendary lady killer he was said to be. The marriage is eventually annulled, being that the Church declared it not legitimate due to it not being consummated. The novel is a satire, naturally. An ironic look at the whole "gallismo" mind set. Throughout the book, the male characters are constantly boasting of their "manhood", their greatest fear in life is being viewed as a "cuckhold", a fear great enough to shame an entire family.
 
Set during the Fascist period, even "Il Duce" is viewed among his supporters as a man who is "endowed" in more ways than his grip on power. However, this is not a pro-Fascist book. In fact, it's quite the opposite. Brancati tries to show that in an oppressive society sexuality is distorted into excess and eventual impotence. The whole story is a metaphor for the fascist period in Italian history.
 
This book will make you laugh at times. Brilliantly written, Brancati seems to make his point with not only humor but tragedy as well. A stinging indictment not only on Fascist Italy but also of the way men often view themselves.
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