The Transaction, Guglielmo D’Izzia’s debut novel, cements his place as a master of prose. It won the 2016 Marina Nemat Award and was named a 2020 International Book Awards Finalist. The novel follows a man named De Angelis as he travels to a small Italian town called Figallia to make a simple business transaction. But, no matter how hard De Angelis tries or what he does, something seems to go wrong with his plans and each attempt to get in touch with his contact leads him deeper and deeper into the mysterious underworld of Figallia. The novel reads like an instant classic, at first conjuring Hemingway’s simple, modern prose, but then revealing something sinister and surreal that would be more at home in Kafka’s wild imagination.
The Transaction is a quiet page turner. It urges you to read one sentence—and the next—and then just one more. I would say it’s like a bag of chips, but the prose feels too nutritious. Every sentence is carefully crafted, simple and elegant, pulling you to the next along with De Angelis as he makes a crazy odyssey through the countryside of Italy. The language is sparse and precise, creating a dreamlike cadence to the journey.
The story begins on a train in the middle of nowhere. De Angelis is traveling from Milan to Figallia to meet with a man named Peppe to secure a business deal. When the train breaks down, the passengers are forced to walk through the heat, and De Angelis eventually passes out. He awakes in the middle of nowhere, disoriented by the heat. Eventually he gets hungry and the conductor takes him to a small village for dinner. Through their conversation, we learn that De Angelis works for a fertilizer company and the purpose of his trip is to investigate a potential new branch for the company. Then they are suddenly kicked out of the restaurant without explanation.
After more walking and waiting, De Angelis finally boards the last bus of his journey. As he’s ready to get back on course, an ominous announcement breaks the news that the bus will not stop at the usual Figallia train terminal due to a criminal investigation. This is where things start to go from mysterious to dark and sinister.
Despite all the setbacks, De Angelis finally arrives at his lodging, but when he knocks on the door, they tell him to go away or they’ll call the police. He tries to call his contact, Peppe, but Peppe doesn’t answer. So he goes to look for Peppe’s house.
The whole novel is a series of De Angelis being told no, he can’t go where he’s supposed to or he can’t stay where he is. He’s shoved off course at every opportunity. It’s no surprise then that when he stops to ask for directions to Peppe’s house, someone points him the wrong way. And of course when he finally finds Peppe’s house, he’s not home.
De Angelis is passive throughout the novel, the events seeming to happen to him, out of his control. The book opens with him on a train, literally on rails, and then bounces from one mishap to the next. It’s easy to get swept up with De Angelis, hoping the next attempt to get in touch with Peppe will be successful. De Angelis’ passive nature makes the novel feel dreamlike, like he’s trapped in a nightmare and can’t move, can’t run, can’t correct his course. Often he can’t even speak because he doesn’t know what to say, or he knows anything he says won’t help him. Throughout the novel, when someone speaks to him, the response is often, “I keep quiet,” or “I don’t say anything.” The absurd futility of De Angelis’ situation gives the narrative a surreal atmosphere, although the novel is for the most part very realistic.
Just when things seem like they can’t get any worse, a pack of vicious dogs attack De Angelis and devour his luggage. He finds himself in a home doctor’s office being operated on to treat the dog bite. The people in the house know his name and tell him the Maresciallo wants to see him. When he meets with the Maresciallo, De Angelis learns that Peppe was shot, and that he is being implicated in the crime. The rest of the novel deals with his attempts to escape a series of escalating misfortunes, and find some way to close the transaction that originally brought him to Figallia. The more De Angelis learns, the deeper the mystery of Figallia becomes.
The Transaction is a literary journey, a mystery, and a delight. It is a novel about waiting and wandering, always moving but getting further from the goal. It will make you feel lost—in a good way, because it’s also about letting go, laughing at the absurdity of so many misfortunes, and persevering in spite of them.
by Guglielmo D’Izzia
Guernica Editions, Spring 2020, 236 p.p., $20 CAD/US
Will Fawley holds an MFA from George Mason University where he was assistant fiction editor for Phoebe Journal of Literature and Art. His fiction has appeared in Parallel Prairies, Unburied Fables, Expanded Horizons, The Northern Virginia Review, Another Place: Brief Disruptions, and Sassafras Literary Magazine, and his book reviews have appeared in Prairie Fire (online), The Winnipeg Review, and As It Ought to Be.