When the Night
Cristina Comencini
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Buy *When the Night* by Cristina Comencini online

When the Night
Cristina Comencini
Other Press
256 pages
April 2012
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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What begins with rancor and distrust becomes a love story set in the icy landscape of the Dolomites, where a young mother rents a small apartment for a month with her two-year-old son, Marco, until her husband returns to fetch them. Her landlord, Manfred, is a mountain guide, a man of few words (and those grudging) content to live in isolation since his wife left him, taking their two children with her, unable any longer to bear her marital unhappiness. Manfred isnít thrilled to have a tenant, watching Marina with a jaundiced eye as she chatters to her toddler, who utters not a word in reply.

Conscious that she is being watched even if only surreptitiously, Marina keeps a low profile. Her tentative efforts at communication are rebuffed by a surly Manfred, who doesnít trust a woman who flaunts her motherhood so casually. Manfred has reason for his suspicions after an unfortunate accident that requires a trip to the hospital and eight stitches on Marcoís head. Determined to break Marina down and force her to tell the truth about the incident, Manfred invites mother and son to his brotherís lodge up the mountain, a trip that will allow Manfred to test Marina in his element and systematically break down her defenses.

In the pristine mountain landscape where outside civilization barely intrudes on their unfolding drama, there seems little to recommend these two protagonists: a man left by his mother as a boy and left by his wife as an adult, invested in his mistrust of females; and a confused young woman whose ambivalence about the child she should love has driven her to distraction and self-doubt. In their mutual isolation, these two mismatched souls circle each other warily, unsure of the otherís intentions and driven into turmoil by confusing emotions. Unexpectedly, a subtle psychological battle between two very different individuals becomes a love story, one where violence hovers around the edge of passions long held in check, fear of intimacy creating a force field as strong as enmity.

With great skill and remarkable sleight of hand, Comencini turns this barren winter landscape into a love story as surprising as it is passionate and riven with self-doubt. Watching one another, calculating the thoughts and actions of an adversary becomes a bond instead of a confrontation, an awareness of another that awakens longing and long-stilled emotions to anotherís exploration, flaws and all. Somehow, these basically unlikable characters become more human, more fully-fleshed in the simplicity of their attraction: ďI want to share this terrible, crushing feeling I have with you.Ē

Comencini builds the tension between Manfred and Marina with a masterís precision: the yearning, the terror, the desperation, and the unbridled passion of two lonely, disparate souls. The meeting, finally, of these improbable lovers is so torturous, so exquisitely painful, that like the lovers, the reader has cast aside all pretensions of restraint. This is a blinding, brilliant exercise in the absurd perfection and healing power of human relationships.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Luan Gaines, 2012

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