A Novel Excerptby Anthony Marra
It was inevitable: whenever Maria thought of Rome, she returned to that final summer when every Sunday her father took her to the air-conditioned cinema instead of church.
Those outings had been a wonderful, worrisome development, her father’s attentiveness one more sign of their reduced circumstances. Historically, he relied on a draconian Scottish governess to facilitate his infrequent excursions with Maria. But the governess, maid, and cook had been dismissed that spring, leaving the apartment vacant and forlorn with only her parents in it. Her father saw things differently: parenthood had been more agreeable to Giuseppe Lagana when someone else looked after his daughter, and without hired help to contain the twelve-year-old, the six-room apartment on the Aventine had never felt more unmanageable and overrun. If nothing else, it was educational. For instance, Giuseppe learned that the more time he put into cooking dinner, the less of it Maria would eat. He learned that she refused to use an alarm clock like a civilized person and just getting her out of bed in the morning was a half-hour ordeal of escalating threats that left him winded and exasperated. He learned that her favorite color was mint-green. He learned how swiftly she could send his thoughts swerving from the homicidal to the enchanted. Now, on the first Sunday in August, he felt outnumbered when he met Maria at the front door and followed her into the late-afternoon light.