a novel

At fifteen, “poised expectantly on the brink of womanhood,” BLANCHE NERO watches the electrocution of her Italian immigrant father, punishment for the inexplicable brutal murder of his recently acquired friend OLD MAN FLAHERTY. She resolves to do something with her life that values humanity over justice, mercy over sacrifice. But she is forever haunted by the mystery of her father. She is also drawn irresistibly to the bigger human mysteries of violence and death.

Blanche is almost sixty now. Her long career as a trauma surgeon at Charity Hospital in New Orleans abruptly ended by the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina, she takes a year sabbatical from the medical school and leases a small flat in Venice, seeking an understanding of her father in the place where he lived his formative years and of herself by reliving and recording her own remarkable life.

On a cold morning in Piazza San Marco, Blanche meets COUNT LORENZO LUDOVICI (Ludo) an aging, elegant and charming Venetian who is dying of AIDS. Blanche is drawn to him and is uncharacteristically self revealing as he introduces her to his beautiful city. As their relationship develops and his health deteriorates Blanche becomes more fond of the count. They grow closer even as she learns of his family’s fascist history and a shocking connection with her own father’s history during the war that eventually explains the tenacious ghost of her past.

As she relives her past by writing down what she remembers, she sees the girl she was and the woman she became with new eyes: the mystery of her father’s death; her distant mother; her sometimes misguided adolescent efforts to grow up. And then discovering the thrill of medicine, especially the sensual thrill of trauma surgery and losing herself in that career, immersed in violence. She recalls her attempts at relationships, especially, JESSE PINTO, the one man whom she has ever loved and how she ended that. She remembers her love affair with the Big Easy and Charity Hospital (the Big Free) that came suddenly to violent end in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the numbing terror of that experience.

After a painful conversation when Blanche and Ludo discover that each of them has private knowledge of interlocking pieces of their history that once revealed completes the story, Ludo’s health rapidly deteriorates. When he is finally bedridden, he convinces Blanche to administer the overdose of morphine that ends his life, the most difficult thing she has ever done.

Blanche feels sadness of a depth that she has not felt before, but also a strange sense of freedom. As she sits in the black gondola returning from placing Ludo’s body in the mausoleum on the cemetery island, Blanche scatters the ashes of her long dead father on the flat water of the lagoon.

Ludo is dead and buried, his terminal event accomplished at Blanche’s hand; a promise broken, a promise kept. The mystery of her father is solved and his remains rest in the waters upon which float his native land. Blanche is finished with writing down her own history; she has learned what she can from that. She returns to her flat and locates an old address book, punching a number that had gone unused for almost twenty years into her cell phone.