I have found a character who is more deplorable, lacking more morals, and more of a complete asshole than any other I have ever read. (I’m trying to convince you to read this book – is it working yet?) He is worse than Jack Taylor or Sgt. Brant. Worse than “Citizen” Vince Camden. Worse than C.W. Sughrue or Balram Halwi or Bruce Medway or anyone else you have nightmares about. Massimo Carlotto’s Giorgio Pellegrini of The Goodbye Kiss, is a convicted criminal, murderer, serial womanizer (actually, he is worse than a plain ol’ womanizer – he is abusive and debasing to most of the women he meets, bilking them for cash and a place to crash, while he either ignores or sleeps with all the others he comes in contact with), and a genuine, bonafide sociopath.
We unwittingly stumble into his life story while he is in Central American exile, just as he calmly puts a bullet in the brain of his closest friend. Although this is the first time he has killed anyone, we soon discover that Giorgio has no problem with death and actually seems to relish the killing stroke. “I always liked murder”, he later admits. He is on the run from Italian authorities regarding his connection to a bombing death but decides to return to Italy to “cooperate with the authorities and turn a new leaf”. Of course, that “new leaf” involves becoming an informer for the corrupt police department and Giorgio becomes the man to know inside the prison walls. The rest of this vignette into the psyche of Pellegrini is all about his release from prison, his work as a bartender, the double-crosses he pulls on his employer, prostitution rings, drug running, violence, sexual abuse, a new “new leaf”, a life as a restauranteur, a return to violence, drug running, sexual abuse, and more murder. I think that covers it – he’s quite a guy. Actually, upon reflection, I’m not sure why I’m telling you all this – as much as I loved The Goodbye Kiss, I absolutely loathed Giorgio Pellegrini. But of course, this is Carlotto’s point – Giorgio is apparently everything that is wrong with modern Italy: rife with corruption, harboring a propensity for violence, and enjoying the exploitation and abuse of women, he is the living embodiment of the seediest underbelly in all of Europe. The book is lean & mean, hitting at a frenetic pace, slamming you repeatedly with the inner workings of Giorgio’s mind, which is a dark, dark place. Under the guise of normalcy, the rotten soul of the narrator slowly begins to take shape, leaving the reader uncomfortable, enraged, and amazed at Massimo Carlotto’s abilities as a writer. I wondered what it must have been like to write this from such a perspective of depravity. It’s not just that we are witness to atrocities by this man, but rather we see the looming specter of possible crimes and acts of violence. Giorgio becomes such a normal, friendly man about town, that we are lulled into thinking that his depravity is saved just for the darker past sections of his life – in fact, the worst is yet to come.