Three O’Clock in the Morning: A Novel by Gianrico Carofiglio

You know, when I look at you grown-ups, I think you’re trapped by things you don’t actually care about. How does that happen? When does it happen?

Three O’clock in the Morning begins with Italian born Antonio in 1983, struggling with epileptic episodes since he was a child. Comforted that his scary, strange fits were simply a thing that happens to some children, life went on with these odd moments occurring once a month or so until his teenage years when the epileptic bouts become more severe. Antonio feels his world shrink with a list of things he can and cannot do, places he should avoid, things he shouldn’t eat. Treatments are causing him to feel apathetic, as much as the changes forced on his young life, and it is why his divorced parents decide, together, that he must go to┬áMarseille, France to see the best epilepsy specialist. With is parents beside him they take the trip together, and discover he will have to return in three years time to see what course his illness will take, as he ages. His life seems to level out so much that at eighteen he’d rather not even bother with the three year checkpoint. His parents are having none of it. More confounding is that it is his mostly absent father (a successful mathematician) who will be accompanying him this time, minus his mother who has an important conference to attend. This father, who he doesn’t really feel he knows, even resents for leaving his mother is the last person he wants to travel with back to that gritty, gray city. Antonio doesn’t even realize how hungry he is to bond with his father.

Upon Arrival, they are informed that Antonio appears to be doing good but only one test can really supply them with answers. The test requires he doesn’t sleep for two nights, inducing sleep deprivation to see if it will cause epilepsy. It is during this time that he and his father share intimacies getting to know each other for the first time, walking along the city streets, drinking in the scenery, the sea, the food, jazz music, the people, and his father’s favorite subject, mathematics. Normally that’s off putting to someone like me, whose math skills are abysmal at best, but Carofiglio’s musings are lovely. A harmony blooms between them and Antonio sees his father as so much more than he imagined him to be. Surprising details arise about his parent’s youthful relationship and marriage and his father’s reason for leaving. The story he imagined doesn’t line up at all with reality. As their connection grows his father imparts everything he has learned along way, including mistakes, and how his incredible mathematical gifts have changed with time. It’s just what Antonio, entering the rocky terrain of manhood, so desperately needs- this window into his father’s soul, that may help him understand himself. Sexuality, regrets, shame, what we do with our talents and love, it’s a beautiful father/son tale in a “modern bohemia” world. It is an easy pace, like a conversation with your best friend. A once in a lifetime meeting of the souls. Lovely.

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Publication Date: March 16, 2021


Astrid Sees All: A Novel by Natalie Standiford

I lost my mind; I can admit it. If you don’t go at least a little crazy when your favorite person dies, something is wrong with you.

A story about “It Girls” in the 1980’s living in East Village, New York City. Meet Phoebe Hayes, twenty-two years old and desperate for experience, excitement and a thrilling life that only the city can offer, especially under the guidance of native New Yorker Carmen. Moving to Manhattan not far from Carmen after college graduation, Phoebe works at a bookstore biding her time while others around her seem to be living the dream she yearns for. Carmen herself is wrapped up in her boyfriend Atti, and Phoebe’s Baltimore roots provides very little experience helping her navigate her new life in the city. One day she meets an older man named Ivan, a seductive doctor. When she gets in a jam, pride be damned, she must accept his money. Then her father dies, the heaviness of her grief causes her to lose her grip and behave strangely. She is desperate to get back to her life in New York, despite her mother’s protestations to the contrary. She is hungry, for distraction from her misery, for the glittering life that thrums in the gritty places only those on the inside haunt and for the chance to deal with Ivan and pay him back for his ‘help’.

Salvation comes in the form of Carmen, who is a lighthouse in her fog of grief. Together, they go underground. Carmen is spellbound by drug addicted Atti, the very person her parent’s want to keep her away from. She swears isn’t using drugs anymore, but like Phoebe, she wants to steer her own life and with Phoebe by her side, no one can stop them. If they leave it all behind, they will finally meet their fate. Through the bad luck of a drug dealers arrest, they grab up an apartment and thanks to Carmen, Phoebe lands a job telling fortunes at the downtown nightclub where famous people party, the Plutonium. Soon she will rub shoulders with people like Andy Warhol! Since college, Phoebe has believed if she could just hook Carmen and be interesting then her sophisticated friend’s ‘ritual of disappearance’ would end. In becoming Astrid the Star Girl, she’s entered Carmen’s world of drugs, sex, and the nightlife. Her world is fresh and new! Finally, she too is someone worth noting. All that glitters isn’t gold, faking it to fit to make it in the presence of celebrities, and secrets, Carmen is keeping secrets from her that casts Phoebe in a role she doesn’t like.

The relationship between Ivan and Phoebe is more tawdry than sexy. She’s playing at being someone else in the hopes to become wild, world-wise, alluring. Channeling movie stubs as a fortune teller (unsure if she has a gift or it’s all bull), lending a little theater to her act as much as she plays the sex kitten pretending ugly sexual encounters are thrilling, chalking it all up to experience, but beneath the surface she’s fooling herself. That whole scene isn’t quite as satisfying as she imagines it and she comes away with huge regrets. There is a disconnect in her life, between who she wants to be and who she is. She spends a lot of time running away from herself which comes off as genuine, it’s the price of youth, these burning lessons. Carmen isn’t as wise and cultivated as she appears either. If anyone has a warped vision of love, it’s her. Neither is truly in charge of their story, for now.

Worse, a shadowy figure is following Phoebe, she isn’t sure who but it can’t possibly be the man she thinks it is. She has got to be losing her mind. Carmen suffers her own loss but Jem, an artist, is there to comfort her, spending his time at their apartment, making Carmen ‘incandescently happy’. A distance is forming between the friends and she is ignoring all the signs that something is troubling her. She has needs, as much as Carmen, but the choices she makes may well drive her best friend away. When Carmen vanishes after their fight, she lies to herself that everything is fine, as the world she has created is crumbling around her. She can’t avoid the truth when she notices flyers of missing young women, it’s a dangerous time, surely nothing untoward happened to Carmen, right? In order to figure out what has happened, she has to wake up and face the heavy past she has been running from. She may just become famous in the end, but the universe has a strange sense of humor.

A coming of age about friendship, glamour, sex, drugs, and betrayal. It’s an ode to the 1980’s New York Bohemia scene. It was a solid read, one that strips us down to who we really are underneath the fa├žade we show the world. In the end, both Phoebe and Carmen are young and vulnerable, despite the grit they sharpen their souls on. Both are liars, inventing who they wish they were, ignoring the truth of their struggles, their weaknesses, two drowning girls trying to save each other and failing miserably.

Publication Date: April 6, 2021

Atria Books