In a classic story of good versus evil two forces square off and do battle. This is not the case, however, in the novels of Rocco Fumento where evil takes on good within the heart and soul of a single individual. In his latest book that combat is holding forth in the person of Damiano di Cappo. As a youngster he discovers his sensual nature and as a teenager he resolves to explore every facet of his lust for sexual encounter. He is aware that a struggle is taking place, but he plants himself firmly on the darker side of that conversation and enjoys every minute of his earthly pleasures. That, in a nutshell, is the meat course of Fumentoís latest creation. What makes the book worthwhile reading, however, is the dessert: not low-end porn but the higher panache of the authorís tale.
This is a stylish read. Almost Victorian, and certainly redolent of Victoria Holt, the romance language of this Romance Language anti-hero is a curious blend of the nineteenth century-laced womenís novels that Holt has been creating for over thirty years and a twentieth century sharpness and insight. Unlike Holtís novel (and Fumentoís previous book) which always views the world and the action through the eyes and mind of a sensitive female, A Lesser Saint addresses the histrionics through the eyes of Damiano, a male protagonist. Set principally in Italy, the story of a young Tuscan nobleman determined to best the devil and still lose his soul in the process, takes its time as it meanders through his adventures.
As a young teen Damiano fathers a child on his first mistress, a woman hired by his father to serve as his nanny. That child, adopted by Damianoís father, is Giacomo, a mute but artistic youngster who idolizes his natural dad even while being rejected by him. When the two of them leave the old world for the new and settle in Massachusetts they become deeply involved with a woman named Sofia whose effect on them both is startling. While Giacomo becomes bound to her through a deep and abiding love that grows as she educates him, Damiano becomes determined to destroy her. Considered a saint by many and a sinner by others, Sofia is caught in their ever-tightening web until she suffers the only fate worse than the ones she has already suffered. The death of her unwanted lover changes everything for all three of these people and Damiano, feeling himself at the end of his rope, though not his life, is left with the uncertain state of his soul still to uncover.
The characters in this book are all living and breathing people, not cardboard cutouts, not stereotypes. Damiano is so complex an individual that his often one-chord composition defies interpretation. He is the narrator so it is his point of view that communicates the story and it is only in his reportage of the reactions of others to him and his ways that gives us the clearer, more well-defined picture of him. Giacomo, shadowy until near the end of the book, is a pale reflection of his father and mother, never quite a healthy soul or character and still he holds surprises as Fumento brings him forward into the light in the final thirty pages. Sofia, on the other hand, is such a strong, well-drawn personage that her final scenes are devastating.
Fumento is one of those writers whose works tend to follow thematic roadways. He writes about the struggle between the two driving forces that hold humanityís hands, braceletting them with steel and prime prose. A Lesser Saint is a book that you wonít curl up with, but it will keep you upright, and even awake, for a long while to come.
A Lesser Saint is published by Publish America, Baltimore. 286 pages. $24.95. Published in 2006, it is available on request at $19.95 from the publisher at www.PublishAmerica.com.