Translated from the Italian by Will Schutt
(New York, NY: Europa Editions, 2017)
Truth blends with fantasy in The Breaking of a Wave as young Luna grapples with her older brother’s death. Luca, her brother, is drowned by the same ocean Luna believes delivered a whale bone that allows her to magically interact with her deceased brother – and, ultimately, the same ocean that teaches her how to cope with his premature death. As the novel’s cast is forced to confront reality in the wake of loss, Fabio Genovesi’s novel explores the ways age and maturity affect consciousness and connection in the aftermath of tragedy.
The novel is told through alternating perspectives, primarily those of young Luna, her mother Serena, and Luna’s teacher, Sandro. Genovesi utilizes different styles of narration for each of these characters; while Luna speaks in first-person, her mother is in second and Sandro is in third. This experimental play with narration is more than a creative tool to differentiate the alternating voices. In fact, these variations in psychic distance reflect less on authorial intent and more on the ability of each character to connect with their own realities. Luna reflects that “grownups love…telling lies.” Genovesi’s use of psychic distance mirrors this, as Serena judges herself through the reflective use of “you,” and Sandro identifies in the third-person as though thoroughly detached from his own experience. Luna’s innocence allows her to exist without self-doubt or inner-judgement, even while suffering through the loss of her brother.
The closest Luna comes to Serena and Sandro’s form of dissociation is when she discovers that the fantasies connecting her to Luca have been fabricated by the adults, which prompts her to muse that “nothing exists. Not even I.” At the crux of her coming-of-age transition, Luna’s “I” momentarily ceases to exist, suggesting that it is impossible to reconcile harsh reality with the acceptance of self. Serena and Sandro cannot accept themselves or their roles in Luca’s death. However, Luna continues to identify herself in first-person despite this momentary dissociation. Because she maintains her identity while simultaneously understanding the full, painful scope of the truth surrounding Luca’s death, her voice becomes a glimmer of hope in a novel primarily focused on the aftermath of loss.
The novel is strongest when the cast joins together in scene. The cross-generational banter between the children (Luna and Zot), adults (Serena and Sandro) and elderly (Ferro) fuses wit and depth. While the dialogue elicits laughter, the ways in which the generations fail to connect speaks to the novel’s concern with perception in relation to age. For instance, Luna and Zot see the chestnut tree as a magical message, while Ferro uses it to shamelessly reminisce on a torrid affair from his past. Meanwhile, Serena and Sandro fail to connect emotionally and sexually near the tree, emphasizing their inability to recapture the desires of their youth. In this way, the contrasting perspectives create clever conversation while emphasizing the ways youth and aging affect perspective and experience.
In the final pages of the novel, Genovesi recreates the image of the waves that drowned Luca as a symbol of hope. In an internal monologue that borders on theme-mongering, Luna muses that “the waves that have always come will always come, one after another. They break on the shore and that seems to be the end of them. Only it’s not.” The prose could be considered a bit too on-point, but after the long journey through healing and loss suffered by Luna, Serena and Sandro, it feels earned. Combined with Luna’s light and earnest voice, the scene manages to both recognize the pain of Luca’s loss while assuring the characters of their inevitable future without him.
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Briana McDonald’s fiction has appeared in The Stonecoast Review, Glassworks Magazine, The Cardiff Review, Rozyln: Short Fiction by Women Writers, and Marathon Literary Review. She is an Associate Editor and a prose reader at The Literary Review.