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VI Book II Synopsis

Friends, I would deeply appreciate any of your comments or suggestions for improvement in the following, which is a synopsis of Book II of my imagenovel trilogy “Vittoria’s Island.”

* * *

Book II begins with James writing to his brother Jack saying that Vittoria remains in hiding in a secret location, apparently still reeling from learning she was adopted. “Her identity has been challenged,” James says, “which is something you and I will never experience. We are safe and comfortable in the narrative of our origin.”

James struggles with impatience for information, for resolution. Life, he believes, frequently serves up disturbing events but nevertheless we’re obliged to get over them, and why should Vittoria be exempt? He thinks, too, there’s a positive aspect of the adoption news: Her being different from everyone in her extended family is not imaginary but rather is wholly legitimate—a genetic fact. Vittoria doesn’t look like any of them, and she certainly doesn’t act or think like them, either.

So who, James wonders, are Vittoria’s biological parents? Soon her sister Franchesca, in a transatlantic telephone call, gives James the surprising news that her father had finally yielded to all the questions. Vittoria’s birth mother, he said, was a famous actress who was making a movie in Naples 30 years ago. Which famous actress? The Academy-award winner Maria Marrella. And the father? Her director, Antonio Franzese.




The story, James thinks, is incredible. But then on the other hand it partly explains Vittoria’s eagerness for role-playing and impersonations. And mischief, too. Maria Marrella had been married and divorced a half dozen times. The tabloids regularly ran breathless stories about her romantic involvements with every one of her leading men, as well as a succession of directors. Today this wouldn’t raise an eyebrow, but 30 years ago? It was one scandal after another, outrageous behavior all around. Is it any wonder Vittoria seems headed in the same direction?

After several weeks of silence, Vittoria finally contacts James. “I have no clue who I am anymore,” she says. James replies that with the news of the adoption her identity becomes more and more clear. It explains more than it hides or confuses. But Vittoria—in a voice that sounds almost child-like—replies that her dad is not her dad, and the family she thought was hers is really not. “I’m so confused,” she whispers. Despite his reassurances, Vittoria hangs up the phone. Apparently she’s not ready to come out of hiding yet.

James goes to the Internet to research the famous actress. He finds an account of the movie Maria Marrella made, her first, when she was 18. Titled “Anna Karenina,” it’s a 1972 Italian-language film directed by Antonio Franzese. And most startling is a collection of publicity stills. Vittoria’s resemblance to the young Maria Marrella—as well as to Antonio Franzese—is unmistakable.

Meanwhile, James tries to ease his worries about his absent Vittoria by continuing to explore the island. He gathers images and information for the book he hopes will make reasonable his rather unreasonable involvement with a woman who is always beyond his reach.

His friend Harold, the professor, is gratifyingly sympathetic. As time goes on, James’ affection for this kindly father figure grows. That Harold fully understands and affirms him is never in doubt. In one of their discussions about love, Harold tells him: “You, my good friend, are like a hunter in pursuit of prey. You are hungry. Thus serious and relentless.”

The hunt, Harold points out, is an early Christian metaphor. St. Augustine describes it as a soul’s search for traces of the Divine in the woods of the material world. James responds that to him his relentless pursuit of Vittoria’s love feels more and more like insanity. Harold replies this might better be compared to addiction, is a matter of brain chemistry, endorphins, and pleasure receptors. Love, though, is always considered a different category.

Also sympathetic to James’ struggle is his brother, Jack, who patiently listens and offers encouragement. After a long silence, though, Jack wonders if James is all right. James replies, betraying considerable agitation:

“No, Jack, I’ve not been contemplating falling off the deep end just because you-know-who continues to hide and I have no bloody idea in hell when she will decide to revisit the real world again, and if she finally does I might say things she’s never heard me say before, but of course I won’t, I’ll just fall right back into the status quo, the maddening routine of me here in Italy and her back there in America, and our future together merely an abstraction, a futile hope, a wisp of smoke that dissipates in the slightest breeze. God damn it all to hell.”

Later, James goes to Ventotene, the remote island where Emperor Agustus exiled his wanton daughter, Giulia Agripinna. Vittoria said many of her old relatives lived there—and frequently cast Stregherian spells. In the strangeness of the place, James feels his passion and anxiety fading. He decides that he may love Vittoria by accepting her silence, and the ambiguity of their relationship. He senses Vittoria’s presence there, as he does when he’s in Ischia, Capri, Ponza. She is his in his mind and heart, and in everything he encounters in this lovely part of the world.

On the sixth week of Vittoria’s disappearance, she calls. James questions her, but gets very short answers. She’s still in acute distress. Yes, she is in a safe place, but she won’t reveal it. When will she return? She doesn’t know. James reminds her that her family is anxiously waiting for her, especially her father, who is distraught. She replies that she’s extremely angry at him for keeping the adoption a secret. Her entire life has been a lie. James replies that once she gets back, she’ll begin to create a new life. A new identity. One that is truly hers, not passed down. She says she has to go.

In subsequent calls, Vittoria reveals that she is seeing a therapist, one who finds her story so fascinating that he has waived his fees. The man wants her to increase the number of sessions from one a week to three. When she announces that it’s time for her to go home and confront her father, the therapist says no, he doesn’t think she is ready for that yet. He wants to see her more. Sensing that Vittoria is enjoying his reaction to the story, James wonders aloud if she is making it up, just to make him upset, or to give him material. She says no, she’s just describing what’s happened. “With you I never know what to believe,” he says. “And you love it,” she replies.

James gets a telephone call from Franchesca, Vittoria’s sister. “My dad had a heart attack and is at Lennox Hill, in intensive care,” she says. “He’s not doing well. I’m so upset. Please let Vittoria know if you speak to her.”

Suspicious, James calls Lennox Hill and gets the ICU nurse. He asks about the status of a patient named Giovanni. The nurse tells him no such patient by that name has been admitted. He asks her to check again. She does, and repeats there is no such patient.

Still another ruse in an annoying succession, James concludes. But then he is sure it was not Vittoria impersonating Franchesca. Their voices are entirely different from each other. James finally decides that Franchesca has apparently taken a page from Vittoria’s book, so to speak. She’ll say anything to get her sister to come back home. But then it might have been her father’s idea. He might have made her to lie to James about a heart attack.

Eventually Vittoria announces she’s finally decided to return home. When James tells her of Franchesca’s fabrication of her father’s heart attack, she’s furious. Vittoria says maybe she should stay away for another six weeks, just to teach them all a lesson. James says, no, you must go back home and talk to your father.

As James awaits details of Vittoria’s homecoming, he meets with Harold who says, surprisingly, that if he’d learned he was adopted, the news would make him happy. Why? Because his father was a drunken abuser, and a virtual illiterate who never brought a book into the house.

Harold relates that he left home after graduating from high school and hitchhiked to New Orleans, where he signed on as a deck hand on a tow that pushed barges to Little Rock via the Mississippi and Arkansas rivers. With his saved earnings he enrolled at LSU. His undergraduate honors, scholarships and grants eventually led to a masters and Ph.D. at Harvard.

This academic accomplishment, Harold says, was inspired by the psychologist Erik Erikson, who insisted we must embrace the notion that will is our personal salvation. One wills what has to be, not what is. We are not a slave of predestination, but rather we may choose who we eventually become.

Which, Harold points out, is precisely the great task Vittoria now faces. The news of her adoption has crumbled only the façade of her building. “Pretty soon she’ll see the benefit of putting up a fresh new coat of stucco, in a color of her own choosing,” he says.

When Vittoria gets back home, Giovanni tries to embrace her, but she pushes him away. He tries to tell her about the adoption, but she puts her hands over her ears and hums a song. Then she begins crying. She shuts herself up in her room, refuses to speak to anyone. She isn’t quite as ready as she thought.

In a thoughtful post, Jack says neither he nor James can fully expect to understand the impact the adoption thing is having on Vittoria, because growing up they never got the feeling they were different, or “other.” Identity, he points out, often is fragile. And mysterious. Vittoria now believes—rightly or wrongly—that notions of loyalty and affection and love are meaningless.

“She thus has been stripped of the illusion that she belongs somewhere,” Jack writes. “But even more frightening is that she’s apparently lost the protective barrier that stands between us and the black abyss. She’s now deep into the existential dread that what’s-his-name always talked about. She’s confronting nothing less than her own annihilation.”

James, as usual, is sympathetic. But after another week of Vittoria’s childish behavior he loses patience. In an angry telephone confrontation he tells her she must quit punishing her father and other family members with her silence, and to talk openly about the adoption and the anger and fear it has elicited. It’s time to grow up. At the end of the emotionally draining interchange, Vittoria reluctantly agrees.

On reflection, James realizes that he has all along been insisting that Vittoria do something he, himself, has so far been unable to—which is to finally accept the death of his mom and dad in a boating accident off Cape Horn. He has not yet gotten past his anger, and he avoids all reminders of the incident. It’s time, he decides, do practice what he’s been preaching to Vittoria. Grow up. Accept. And to photograph a sailboat in the harbor exactly like the one that his mom and dad sailed to their deaths.

Then still more disturbing news: Giovanni experiences chest pains. The doctor performs tests and concludes he needs bypass surgery. Vittoria’s 40 days of silence in hiding, and her subsequent continued refusal to speak to him when she got back, apparently was too much for the man. And James wonders what this latest stress might do to Vittoria. He tells her: "I know your dad will get through this. But no matter what happens you have to deal with it like an adult. You may not run away again. That’s no longer an option for you." Vittoria promises not to disappear again. And James wants to believe her.

A few days later Vittoria sends James a maddeningly short sentence saying that following difficult bypass surgery, Giovanni is in intensive care. No further details. Just ominous silence, as usual. Harold gently suggests that if Vittoria didn’t find silence enormously important, he’d be surprised. Because, he says, silence is part of the culture of the Italian family. He quotes a poem by Thomas Cole:


Sing! there shall silence grow in earth and lower heaven,
A silence of deep awe and wondering;
For listening gladly, bend the angels even,
To hear a mortal like an angel Sing.


James tells Harold: “So the lesson I must draw from these lines is to listen gladly.”
"Yes, lad,” Harold replies. “In this difficult time your angel needs your support and understanding. But most especially she needs your acceptance."

* * *



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(Deleted comment)
Among James's many character defects, impatience and a low level of acceptance rank high. If he were in the garden, for instance, he'd be wondering exactly WHY the aloe is not growing as fast as he expects, considering the extraordinary care he has given it for the past week or two.

I think there is something wrong with this sentence:

He has not yet gotten past his anger, and he avoids all reminders of the incident. It’s time, he decides, do practice what he’s been preaching to Vittoria.

I have more comments, but my head hurts. So more later! ;)

It sounds rather good. I think this part here

Meanwhile, James tries to ease his worries about his absent Vittoria by continuing to explore the island. He gathers images and information for the book he hopes will make reasonable his rather unreasonable involvement with a woman who is always beyond his reach.

struck a chord. Perhaps you should consider adding the universal aspect of men desperately chasing unreachable women.

Thanks for your comment. I think James, being a romantic optimist, doesn't quite accept yet that Vittoria is unreachable. As they say, denial ain't a river in Egypt.

it's also not neccessarily that vittoria is unreachable, which would put james more at ease perhaps (that's a mean facet to jam into his psyche and his notion of love i spose) than the possibility vittoria is simply unreachable by him. i'm ridiculously attached to happy endings, especially as opposed to yet another story re existential/void/bla/etc closing in all around, so of course i'd be all into both charachters going through the heart/head break it takes to step into a world one onion peel layer lighter.

vittoria's freakout/emotional catatonia/whateveritis could turn out to be her taking care of herself on an instictual level, but if it's how she's always been maybe it's difficult to write this as something new and pivotal for her. if she's always been a little on the flimsy side, this could turn out to be where the worst of "vittorianess" turns out to be the dragon, who of course is best friends with the princess & st.george is actually the bad guy who has deal with the repercussions of just not getting it on such a lethal level.
a happy ending doesn't seem like it would result in the two of them together. or worse, it would end up being the sort of thing that gives happy endings a bad name (here in america, it seems, lately, anyway). that i actually cannot imagine a happy ending winding up with them working out okay together makes it sort of intriguing, how would it happen? one of the things about desire is that it draws much of its early surface heat from need, various emotional cravings channeled through a less vulnerable and seemingly "simpler" drive. coming through a storm like this could make james deal with vittoria without his need ratcheting up the volume, maybe. ah dunno... i guess the point being apparently i like what you've outlined here & the charachters live coz here i am thinking about what happens next ;)

the father's pressing on vittoria with his guilt/apologies when she shows up is depressing, in that moment, even in an outline, it felt certain and unavoidable that things were going to get worse before they get better. it's the worst thing he could have done, you know? but then his health fails and it feels a little rotten to have just been ticked at the guy. as irritating as vittoria has been, nobody seems to really want to give her honest space to figure out wtf, or able to do so w/o simply not being there at all. vittoria needs a friend to show up who isn't trying to fuck her or something. or just someone who isn't particularly invested in her but who can be fairly engaging to hang out with, *doing* something. doing is one of the ways we recover from trauma. of course her not getting that is still story.

again, nice work! all i can really offer is reaction/response, i think you've got the building of story down pretty well.

what inspired this particular thing?

I appreciate your close reading & analysis and would have responded sooner, but I'm having computer hard drive problems and since it's vacation time here, parts and service are almost impossible to get. They say everyone will be back on the first of September. Or perhaps October. Who knows? More to the point, who cares?

In any event, I haven't quite worked out the ending--happy or otherwise. You asked what inspired the whole thing. Well, most of it comes from my significant other, my muse in America, my model for Vittoria, who feeds me allegedly true stories one after another. Disscociative state, the return of a long-lost lover, brain surgery, etc., etc., etc.

Most of these tales don't stand up to scrutiny or verification. But it does seem certain that she gets her formidable role-playing and acting ability from her biological mother, Sophia Loren.

As always, thanks for your inerest! I deeply appreciate it.

i'll be back to read more after current endeavours come through, cya then & looking forward to catching up

I'm not sure if my first attempt to reply was successful, so here it is again...way more than anyone might wish to know about this unfolding melodrama...

More news coverage about the John Palcewski ­ Sophia Loren connection.
http://www.palcewski.com/SL

More about John Palcewski and his imagenovel concept.
http://www.palcewski.com/JP

More photographs of Maria.
http://www.palcewski.com/M

I like it, but I find it a little disquietening that James has such contradictory ideas about inheritance and genetics.

"But then on the other hand it partly explains Vittoria’s eagerness for role-playing and impersonations. And mischief, too. Maria Marrella had been married and divorced a half dozen times."

really disturbed me and makes me feel that James, too, is imposing ideas about what Vittoria "should" be like onto her. I'd like to think that the story of Harold's father changes James' thinking on this but it isn't clear.

Many thanks for taking the time to comment.

James certainly is not a believer in biological determinism, nor does he wish to impose anything on Vittoria. He merely recognizes the clearly obvious fact that she resembles her biological mother--a mischievous actress--much more than she resembles the family that nurtured her.

Her family attributes Vittoria's differences to rebelliousness, or an unusual and dangerous willfulness, or even a shocking disrespect of family values and customs, etc.

Thus the family is imposing upon her character a wholly negative value judgment, which James is eager to contest!


Oh, yes - I certainly got that from it, you make it clear what James is trying to do. I just think that "she can't help it" might be just another way of doing the same thing...

Not to be argumentative, but "she can't help it" implies there's something wrong with her character, however it was formed. James believes instead that who she is, the full constellation of her traits, is to be celebrated and affirmed!


Ah, but surely that is even *more* reason to celebrate them as products of her own unique spirit and identity, rather than mere hereditary traits!

I don't want my playful quibbling to detract from the fact that I've grown a real interest in, and appreciation for, these characters over the past while. I'm part of the Harold fan club, but I'm also very sympathetic to James and very interested in Vittoria (who is probably my favourite one of all). You've created an amazing world.

It's lovely and generous of you to express a liking for these characters, who've appropriated my psyche and heart for the past three years. An invigorating way to start a new day. Thanks.

but wouldn't it be funny if it turned out she really was their daughter somehow, and the rebelliousness/outsider thing was not nature, but nurture, growing up in a house with a secret like this, everyone knowing she's just not One Of Us, etc..

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