Despair by Vladimir Nabokov

By Vladimir Nabokov

Generally revised by means of Nabokov in 1965--thirty years after its unique publication--Despair is the wickedly creative and richly derisive tale of Hermann, a guy who undertakes the ideal crime--his personal homicide.

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Only if he is “upbeat” (that’s Prima’s word) will his kids and the customers talk to him for a few minutes in a row, and for just that little bit of time he’s supposed to thank the Lord. There’s only one person Antonio should stick around for, one reason why he and Maddalena shouldn’t move back to Santa Cecilia for good, and that’s Frankie. Prima is more than settled, but Frankie’s up in the clouds somewhere. Where he came from, where he’s going, nobody knows. Thirty years old almost, and still fooling around with school and master’s degrees and jobs that don’t pay.

Why else does he run to the doctor every time he’s got a cough? Maddalena is seventy-­two years old, and in America that’s a spring chicken. When she’s dancing at the studio, when she tries on with Prima the new dresses of the season, when her children and grandchildren are sitting around her at the dining room table Christmas Eve, and she’s able to forget what’s come before, she’s twenty-­five again. She thinks, I’m too alive to ever leave this world. All the time people waste! Why don’t they realize?

It was the force that connects husband to wife, keeps their hearts pumping, keeps one from spinning away from the other even when spinning away seems like the only way to escape grief. They lay side by side, sheets pulled up to their chests, and spoke Italian, as they often did when alone, but they would not look each other in the eyes. Maddalena fixed hers on the burnt-­out bulb in the floor lamp in the corner. To meet Antonio’s eyes was to betray Tony. And to admit they were taking a big risk.

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