Don’t move. Stop. Wait. Just stay. Don’t. Move. If you’ve ever felt like this in your life, you know that it’s a terrible feeling. It’s a desperate wish for time to stand still, to stop, so that whatever horrific thing that’s about to happen is delayed, maybe even prevented. But at the same time, you know that time has no mercy, no compassion. It goes, and we go with it. In Margaret Mazzantini’s thought-provoking novel Don’t Move, the main character experiences a few of these moments in which he wishes time would stop, somehow, and give him a chance to change what seems inevitable.
This book was kind of a new experience for me, and that’s saying something because (and I say this with all the humility in the world) I have read a LOT of books. I couldn’t get a grasp on it. Who was the bad guy? What was the message? Was there a message? What began with an admitted rape on the part of Timoteo, the pro(?)tagonist, turns into a sordid affair with the victim(?) who ends up dying of a botched abortion on the day his legitimate daughter is born to his wife, all of which is happening in the past as he sits in the waiting room of a hospital after his kid (the non-aborted, legitimate one) gets in a motorbike accident and has to have emergency brain surgery. Confused? So was I. And although I still can’t figure out if Timoteo is an arrogant bastard who takes advantage of weakness in women or some other kind of monster entirely, the humanity of the characters, their actions and reactions, make this book something to be read, remembered, and passed on.
Maybe I can’t tell you for sure what kind of person Timoteo is, but I can tell you what my instincts tell me about him. They tell me that he is a man who is unsure of himself, who lacks confidence, who maintains a constant battle between his baser instincts and his nobler ones, who projects his weakness onto the women around him, and then takes advantage of them. Elsa, his wife, is a confident, independent, attractive woman who works as a journalist for a moderately-sized paper, and yet at every opportunity, Timoteo makes her smaller, makes her insipid and timid and needy. However, compared to Italia, Timoteo’s lover, Elsa seems a brazen Amazon. Italia is frequently compared to a dog by Timoteo: pathetic, ugly, kicked-around, starved for affection. Although he claims to love her, Timoteo’s descriptions of Italia are often unfeeling, removed, like a scientist viewing a specimen in a petri dish. He describes his relationship with her as follows: “…once I was a livid, barbarous man who raped a woman, a girl grown old before her time. I did it because I loved her right away and I didn’t want to love her; I did it to kill her and I wanted to save her” (149). And again: “Unfortunately because I raped you, unfortunately because I didn’t weep when my father died, unfortunately because I’ve never loved anyone. Unfortunately, Italia, Timoteo is afraid to live” (185). I believe that being weak is human. We are all weak in some way. But when we use our weakness as a weapon, when we use it as a justification for taking advantage of others, we become inhuman. The word monster, in ancient literature, always referred to a human being who through some crime or insult against the gods, was turned into a kind of half animal, half human mutant. Although the gods no longer play such an integral part in our lives, we can still become monsters. The only problem is, we keep our original shapes, and other people can’t always see the monsters inside. Italia, Elsa, and all the other women in Timoteo’s life are fooled by his apparent humanity, and either fail or refuse to see the kind of man, or monster, that he truly is.
Like most cases of rape, like the book I reviewed previously, A Triumph Over Rape, there is the inevitable transferral of guilt from the raper to the rapee. Although he admits the rape to himself, Timoteo never talks to Italia about it, never apologizes, instead using her own rape against her.
Tell her, Timoteo. Tell her now. Tell her to her face, to her dirty mouth, stagnant with her misery. Tell her you’re expecting a legitimate child, the heir to your sterile, cautious life. Tell her she has to have an abortion, because now’s the right time, now when she’s scaring you and you’re thinking, What kind of mother would so desperate a woman make? (208).
In moments of cowardice, instead of admitting his weakness, instead of owning it, he blames everything on Italia’s inadequacy. He can’t bring himself to tell her that he prefers his legitimate child to her bastard, so he convinces himself that she wouldn’t make a very good mother in the first place. Somehow, he convinces himself that through her apparent embracing of her misery, of her lot in life, that somehow she asks for the things that happen to her, including her rape. In truth, Timoteo is afraid and his fear (and weakness!) becomes the justification for all of his actions.
I recommend this book. I don’t recommend it because of its shiny, happy characters and its shiny, happy ending. I recommend it because it troubled and confused me, and I’d like to see what other people think of it. I recommend it because anybody can recognize little pieces of themselves in the characters, however pathetic or detestable they may be. I recommend it because it will make you think, and because it’s not the average book you pick up off a shelf or read because it’s on Oprah’s Book Club. Read it because it’s different, and we all need a little different in our lives, even if the difference isn’t entirely pleasant.