One might describe Alberto Moravia’s 1944 novella Agostino (NYRB Classics 2014) as a coming-of-age or loss-of-innocence story, but one ought not, for either would be an imprecise—that is, lazy—classification, an affront to this great work’s essential liminality. Agostino’s innocence is punctured within the first three or four pages, when one day a young man joins him and his mother on their morning boat ride, but it is not lost, and from this point forward Agostino is stuck in a sort of no-man’s-land as he seeks to define his relationships with—or, more germanely, to—his mother, to the “gang” of boys he meets who live over at the other, poorer beach, and ultimately to the world at large. What I find most lovely about Agostino—and what some might find most frustrating about it—are the long paragraphs in which the narrator articulates, with stunning precision, intimacy, and respect, Agostino’s impossible internal struggle—which the child cannot yet articulate for himself—to understand and direct his longings, to find a place, to either emerge from boyhood or settle back inside and mend its fabric.
Alberto Moravia, Agostino. Trans. by Michael F. Moore. Published by NYRB Classics (2014). 128 pages.