Saturday, June 9, 2018

The Italian Teacher

Title:  The Italian Teacher
Author:  Tom Rachman
Publication Information:  Publisher. Date. pages.
ISBN:  073522269X / 978-0735222694

Book Source:  I received this book through the Penguin First to Read program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Seated in a copper bathtub, Bear Bavinsky dunks his head under steaming water and shakes out his beard, flinging droplets across the art studio"

Favorite Quote:  "What is have never been what ought ... You pose an is/ought question. When I was younger, I dabbled in 'oughts.' I have retired to 'is.'"

The Italian teacher, Charles "Pinch" Bavinsky, is an artist. Or at one time, he was an artist. Or at the very least, at one time, he wanted to be an artist. He is at one time also an academic and an author. He ends up as a teacher.

Pinch is the child of two artists. His father "Bear" Bavinskly is a painter and a big personality. He is also world famous and completely self-involved. Pinch's mother Natalie is a sculptor, who fades under Bear's shadow. Pinch's life is a testament to trying to gain his father's approval and recognition.

His half-sister Birdie takes a different approach. She advises Pinch to not look for that personal connection with his father. "When you see what he accomplished ... maybe he was right how he acted. Would it be better if he’d shown up for softball games ... without doing what he knew, knew, would be so great? It’s bigger than us. Bigger than us, Charlie…” In real life, is there a balance possible? I would like to think so. In Bear's narcissistic life, there is not. In Birdie's life, it is acceptable for there  not to be balance. In Pinch's life, there is a hope that it may come one day.

The book follows the trajectory of Pinch's life in four sections - childhood, youth, adulthood, and old age. Childhood is spend in artistic endeavors waiting for Bear's visits for Bear is not a permanent fixture in his life. He comes and goes and has an entire life separate from Pinch and his mother; he has in fact fathered more than ten children with several different women!

Pinch lights up with his father's attention, and tries to hold on to his father. That becomes the theme of his life. He takes up painting only to give it up because of his father. He tries to find a place in Bear's other life only to see that it does not exist. He tries to write a biography of his father only to give it up because of his father. So it continues until almost the end of the book. The ending, when it comes, is surprising and, in retrospect, completely fitting.

This book reminds me in some ways of The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. Both books begin with this little boy being batted around by circumstances completely out of his control. As a reader, he elicits that sympathy and that feeling that he needs to be protected. Both books follow the trajectory of the boy's life, centering sections around different phases of life. Both characters spend their lives seeking something out of reach. In Pinch's case, it is his father's approval and attention; it is an existence in his father's life.

This book is sad, but not quite as sad as The Goldfinch. Both good and bad things happen to Pinch in his life. He makes both good and bad choices. He forms some relationships that last. Through all the good and the bad choices, I care about Pinch and what happens to him.

That is the skill of Tom Rachman's writing. The characters feel so real. I find myself searching for "Bear Bavinsky" to see if he may have existed or if he may have been based on a historical aritst. The book is pure fiction, but it feels as if it is a real story about real people.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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