It cannot be easy to write humorous fiction, although it does seem to come naturally to some. In the television world, they have writing teams, but in the sequestered world of the writer, it’s all on them to produce a work that is not only funny but interesting as well, that tells a story. The Transaction is such a story and from all appearances, Mr. D’Izzia appears to have the delicate mix of humour and earnest literature in fine control in this, his debut novel from Guernica Editions.
The Transaction is centred around a man, a Mr. De Angelis (we never get to know his first name), who is travelling on a train to conclude a deal for a piece of property in rural Sicily. At some point, the train comes to a stop and everybody is ordered off. The excuse is that the engine has failed and they have to walk to the next whistle stop. All of this takes place in the middle of a scorching Sicilian summer. Later on a bus to Figallia (his destination), De Angelis is informed that the bus will not be able to stop there due to a police investigation, but will stop at the closest terminus. From this point on, nothing appears to go his way: he gets bitten by a feral dog, picked up by the police, stared at by the townsfolk (who seem to know all about him), drinks too much, passes out and wakes up with a bruised and bloodied face, gets death threats and so on. It’s a case of De Angelis not being in on the joke, although it’s no joke that two men have been shot dead, one of which was to be his local contact for the transaction. Through it all, De Angelis maintains a polite and mild demeanour while the situation regarding the transaction goes down the tubes.
What really makes The Transaction an engrossing read is the descriptions (by De Angelis, who narrates) of the locals, all of whom are very strange looking and strange-acting. In the following excerpt, De Angelis and his landlady are exiting the funeral for Tommasini, the local contact who was shot:
Outside the basilica, we parade through a never-ending human corridor. At the end of it, I spot the hearse, as well as a brass band at the ready beyond it, and two village idiots standing by the back door holding poles with purple banners, one of the two simpletons is short and filthy and with a face reminiscent of a banana: long, concave, and shockingly jaundiced; the other one, the right opposite: tall, husky, dark-skinned, and mouth protruding like that of an ape.
But there’s more to The Transaction than humorous characters. There’s a fair bit of darkness, a sense of something not-quite-right that the whole town (or a certain element within it) is complicit in, and this stranger from the north is not to be trusted and requires watching at all times. The book’s climax as well as it’s ending is particularly noteworthy.
Award-winning author Catherine Graham (Quarry) is quoted as saying regarding The Transaction:
“Mysterious, stark and cinematic, Guglielmo D’lzzia’s debut novel The Transaction takes the reader on an array of escalating and disturbing encounters…Eerily detailed and atmospheric, this tightly controlled narrative brims with tension.”
That’s a pretty accurate summation of this novel, a book that I’m certainly glad I picked up to read sooner than later. If your recent reading material needs a change of pace, I recommend The Transaction. I’m adding it to the 2020 longlist in the Best First Book (Fiction) category for “The Very Best!” Book Awards.
The Transaction by Guglielmo D’Izzia
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