When you think of an Italian, I’d have to assume that ‘sensual’ is one of the first words that comes to mind. Stereotype or not, from the passion they feel for their cuisine to the rapid fire, gesticulation-heavy manner in which they speak, to the tender way in which Paolo treated Lizzie in the chef d’oeuvre The Lizzie McGuire Movie (kidding about the last one, Paolo was a jerk), it’s difficult to dispute that they simply seem to feel more deeply than the rest of us (at the very least, more deeply than my Anglo-Saxon ancestors do, though the bar there is low). The point of this rambling and potentially slightly offensive opening paragraph: I shouldn’t have been surprised that The Things That Happened Before the Earthquake was a deeply emotional, and, at times, carnal novel. It was written by an Italian, about Italians, so, ovviamente, it’s going to be Italian, but, despite that, certain parts made this emotionally distant WASP squirm a bit in her seat.
The first thing you should know? The Things That Happened Before the Earthquake, set in the 1990s, follows an overly ambitious and gullible filmmaker patriarch who moves his family from Rome to LA (mere weeks after the Rodney King riots), convinced he’s got a hit on his hands. His teenage daughter, Eugenia, furious at being uprooted from life in Rome—where Communism is all the rage, and she’s just starting to get into it—struggles to find her footing in the Los Angeles scene. Eugenia’s chosen response to her outcast status is seemingly to have sex with everyone around her, particularly the dangerous and brooding types. But these scenes aren’t without purpose—each character that Eugenia intertwines herself with (literally, lol) teaches her something about what it means to be an American in the 1990s. Each personality is different, all of them, together, forming a complete picture of California during one of its most tumultuous times in history. I may not be selling the book particularly well, but I can assure you it’s different from anything else you’ll read this year. Pick it up if you’re not spending Christmas at Grandma’s house.