Among other achievements, this story explores the line between caution and paranoia. There is something unnerving about Atlas’s Naples. The way the young men touch each other’s chests “menacingly, with the edge of their open palm”; a friend’s nervous warning to get off the streets at the sound of approaching scooters; and later, the swirl of blood in the shower drain. The story unfolds against a backdrop of muted tension and always the possibility of violence.
Yet fear does not change the trajectories of the characters’ lives, so much as sickness, love, or other forces do. Indeed, violence seems to occur at a distance: “You don’t feel anything when they cut you, not at first. You just feel the dampness of the blood.” A disconnect exists between the perception of violence and the sensation of pain. The cruelty of the world is seen as if behind glass. And there is the narrator’s delusional mother, for whom fear and reality have been permanently severed from each other. Although the delinquent youth of Naples constitute a danger that is much more immediate than, say, the conspiring government at work in the mother’s mind, Atlas has found a commonality that spans all types of human fear: that distancing, isolating property that makes fear a most unusual state of being.