Book Review: Trust by Domenico Starnone

Trust by Domenico Starnone is the second of a handful of short books that I picked up at the local library (the first was Comfort Me with Apples).

Publisher’s Blurb

Pietro and Teresa’s love affair is tempestuous and passionate. After yet another terrible argument, she gets an idea: they should tell each other something they’ve never told another person, something they’re too ashamed to tell anyone. They will hear the other’s confessions without judgment and with love in their hearts. In this way, Teresa thinks, they will remain united forever, more intimately connected than ever.

A few days after sharing their shameful secrets, they break up. Not long after, Pietro meets Nadia, falls in love, and proposes. But the shadow of the secret he confessed to Teresa haunts him, and Teresa herself periodically reappears, standing at the crossroads, it seems, of every major moment in his life. Or is it he who seeks her out?

Starnone is a master storyteller and a novelist of the highest order. His gaze is trained unwaveringly on the fault lines in our public personas and the complexities of our private selves. Trust asks how much we are willing to bend to show the world our best side, knowing full well that when we are at our most vulnerable we are also at our most dangerous.

My take

Like the Valente novella, Trust is a short work of fiction that I enjoyed but wasn’t exactly sure what to make of it.

The kernel at the heart of the story is the secret shared between Pietro and Teresa. Never revealed, but a thread woven through the entire story. Sometimes the tensions builds and it feels like everything will come crashing down but it never quite does.

I enjoyed the story as a mediation on the way we create stories and perceptions of ourselves and our lives, about who we are and why we do what we do, etc. At the heart of the story is the idea that shared risk can bind people together but also push them apart. There is a sort of magnet effect of both attraction and repulsion and love is the wrestling with this effect.

But I also felt like there was a layer or level or the story or writing that I was missing. Particularly after reading the afterward by Jhumpa Lahiri which is really a musing on language and translation.

The changes from Story One, narrated by Pietro, to Story Two and Story Three, in the voice of his daughter Emma, and Teresa respectively, left me a little confused too. Clearly, we never exactly get the real story nor am I sure between all those involved an agreed upon factual recounting could be created.

Starnone is clearly highlighting the challenges of both literature and memory but is there more than just an unreliable narrator involved? Not sure.

Anyways, it was an engaging story, with tight prose and emotional resonance. Plus, I enjoyed reading a story like this in a condensed package.  I enjoy epic tales but also admire the skill it takes to pull off a story in a more compact way.

I am looking to read two other Starnone novels translated by Lahiri so stay tuned.

Other Reviews

Kirkus:

The story, it turns out, isn’t just about trust—but also about how we create our own lovers to suit the selves we’d like to be—or, at any cost, not to be.

Richly nuanced while also understated, Starnone’s latest appearance in English is a novel to be savored.

PW:

Lahiri’s intelligent translation captures Starnone’s subtle account of the characters’ shifting power dynamics, and the novel ends with Teresa’s take on their affair, in which she admits she still loves him and ambiguously claims to be “far more dangerous than he.” Teresa’s voice is a tonic after Pietro’s misogynistic narration, but it’s too brief. This will leave readers wanting more.

LA Times:

Starnone has earned a reader’s trust with another agile analysis of frail humanity. And Lahiri, whose award-winning fiction has made her one of the most visible figures in contemporary American literature, continues her self-effacing yet wildly ambitious project of vanishing into another language and another writer’s prose.

 

Complete Review:

Starnone writes engagingly, and while his narrators can be difficult people, each willful in their own different way, they and the situations are intriguing enough that they aren’t simply too annoying. If not entirely convincing as a character portrait of this specific kind of man, Trust is still a solid and quite appealing read.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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