It’s time for Literary Wives, a blogging club that looks at the depiction of wives in fiction!
Please make sure to check out the posts by the other wives and join in the discussion if you’ve read Ties by Domenico Starnone! There are definitely spoilers ahead.
In 1974, Aldo and Vanda have been married for twelve years and have two children. It is also when Aldo walks out and lives with another, younger, woman in Rome, leaving Vanda to care for their children in Naples. Eventually they reconcile and are living together in Rome when they are both in their 70s. But their marriage has never quite recovered from that time – Aldo does whatever Vanda wants so as not to upset her and Vanda is especially mean to him hoping to drive him away again.
After they go on vacation to the beach for a week, they return to find their apartment has been trashed. Nothing has been stolen but their furniture is destroyed, papers pulled out and thrown everywhere, all their secrets thrown around for anyone to see. It is while they attempt to restore order to their home that they think back over the life they have lived, at the decisions that have brought them to this moment.
I really liked this little book!
I liked the structure of the book – part one is letters that Vanda writes to Aldo, railing at him for leaving their marriage, about the consequences of his leaving on his relationships with their children, how they are trying to build a life without him. The second section is present-day Aldo, being tricked by scammers, sorting through all his papers in his study after the burglary, thinking about his life all those years ago and what made him leave his marriage and ultimately what made him come back.
I liked the way the book ended. How Starnone takes a step back so that the reader is able to see the whole picture instead of just parts of it. I appreciated that nothing was left to inference for a change. I also appreciated that all parties were flawed – Aldo for his infideltiy, Vanda for spending a lifetime punishing her husband in the hopes that he’ll leave again while being completely miserable herself, their kids for the way their memories are warped with time, how they’ve used their parents’ misery as an excuse for their own.
Domenico Starnone is an Italian writer (and rumoured husband of Elena Ferrante) and Ties was translated by Jhumpa Lahiri (have you read her memoir about learning Italian? I really enjoyed it). In the introduction she talks a lot about the work of translation and how she had read the book many times before she did the translation (at Starnone’s request). I can’t help but think that this book is a different reading experience for someone like me who has been married for just about five years, versus someone married for 20 or 30 or someone who has experience being separated or divorced.
What does the book say about being a wife?
Ties has a fairly traditional view about being a wife – not surprising given when and where it is set. Vanda tells Aldo that she was a good wife:
Two pregnancies had barely altered me. I was an efficient wife and mother. But evidently being almost identical to the time we’d met and fallen in love wasn’t enough, to the contrary – maybe that was the mistake; what I had to do was reinvent myself, be more than just a good wife and mother. So I tried to look like the one at the camp, and like the girls that no doubt hovered around you in Rome, and I made an effort to participate more in your life outside the house.
But still, Aldo left. So when he returns, she decides that things will be different, the marriage will go ahead on her terms.
You’d shown me in every possible way that you loved Lidia as you’d never loved me. I knew by then that if a man loves another woman he never returns to his wife for love. And so I told myself: Let’s see how long he can stand it before he tuns back to her. But the more I tormented you the more you caved. […] Years, decades have gone by playing this game and we’ve made a habit of it: living in disaster, reveling in disgrace, this was our glue.
Vanda’s identity when she was 22 was very much in becoming a wife. But once her husband betrays their vows, she won’t allow herself to be taken in again. She spends the rest of their years together punishing him and he continues to betray their vows. Despite their decision to stay together, they never move past those years when they were apart.
Be sure to visit the other blogs and get in on the discussion! Join us in October when we read Happenstance by Carol Shields.