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Adrift Paperback – July 20, 2016
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About the Author
E.J. Bancesco is a practicing architect, an accomplished fine artist, and a passionate writer. Born in Bucharest, Romania, he and his wife immigrated to the United States in 1983 and now reside in Illinois. This is his first novel.
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Through the mind of the protagonist – Luca Leontin, a Romanian expatriate revisiting his roots after a two-decade long absence – the reader is drawn inexorably into the convoluted tunnel vision of the male mind. Luca is a cultured man, aloof but not unlikeable; a respectable family man, even. Or is he?! As in real life scenarios, the frailty inherent in human nature swiftly comes to the fore to dispel that romantic impression. Luca's moral rectitude, if indeed he can boast of such a virtue, is squarely accompanied by promiscuous habits, which by some twisted logic are portrayed as de rigueur. And our hero is unrepentant in that practice. While wife Lili and daughter Emma are out of the way, they are held in respectful awe in some remote fashion as the playboy comes to life with a vengeance.
And, yet, for all its harsh realism, "Adrift" is a gripping read. It is imbued with all the common emotional elements we experience through the course of our lives – desire, or its darker equivalent, lust; infatuation, obsessive love, revenge, detachment, denial, and the thrust of danger we all too often stumble upon when we play with fire. From the youthful mesmeric ideal of hope to the bleakness of maturity, the force by which each episode is conveyed to the reader is thought-provoking. With a middle-aged man as the central figure of the story, as he revisits childhood haunts, old flames and new erotic interests in a post-communist country, all elements come together like a tightly-woven tapestry. Much like a rollercoaster, we are thrust into this fast-paced journey, in both the literal and emblematic senses, and henceforth overtaken by its momentum.
The novel is structured into several parts, most of which are dedicated to a particular woman who claims our hero's focus during that period of his life. Woven through the lapses between these women, there is a nostalgic trip to Luca's past via an unfinished memoir, reunions with family, friends and enemies, where the links between past and present merge and also blur his own emotional development. In fact, Luca is now a man of fifty, but one gets the feeling that his emotional make-up remains firmly entrenched in his youth. This might explain his reckless abandonment to danger, which could so easily have been avoided, and his numerous sexual exploits. And in the interim, the vast changes wrought to his homeland in the intervening two decades of absence, which in many ways is still ravaged by its history, seem to him but a figment.
Towards the last quarter of the novel, the story takes off at an incredibly fast pace when Luca gets himself embroiled quite unnecessarily in a dangerous espionage episode, which, true to form, also has him falling prey to his lustful urges with a stranger and nearly gets himself killed in the process. But, perhaps, the sheer horror of that death-wish did achieve its objective, for in the end we discover that Luca has not gone adrift without recourse. That is, in and of itself, a redemption, for it returns him to the hope and optimism of his childhood, as this epigraph for Part 1, so aptly highlights:
"… the green paradise of childhood loves … is for many a future in reverse, an obverse of hope in the face of the gray purgatory of adult loves."
Without a doubt, Bancesco boasts a unique voice that is a pleasure to read. This is one of those books that one just cannot put down. As with his second novel, "The Scarf", its elegant and evocative language is its greatest draw. I cannot recommend it highly enough, and will be looking forward to more of this author's work in the future.
“Adrift” is a little bit of a homecoming story, a mid-life crisis event, and a cautionary tale of modern troubles that seek us out when we least expect it. It is also a tale of a man who followed his heart, welcomed challenges, and remains grounded throughout.
I found the writing to be precise and intriguing. It’s a story that will make you think about the implications of your choices throughout life.
Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I do not know the author personally, although I was privileged to chat with him via Twitter messaging after reading the book. He answered my questions patiently. He’s an eloquent and thoughtful author who challenged me to think further about my initial responses to his work.