The Life of the World to come
REVIEW by Willard Manus
The title of Joseph Barthanis powerful new novel was taken from lines in the Nicene Creed: I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.
The reference turns up later in the book, when its hero George Dolce thinks back on two of his childhood friends, Dave and Alex. The former became a junky, the latter a wreck of a man who was holed up in his attic painting terrifying, beautiful nightmarish scapes that nobody understood. What he called The Life of the World to Come. Two years later he was dead.
Barthani, a distinguished poet and novelist, pushes deep into his own nightmarish vision of Pittsburgh in the 1970s, when that once flourishing steel town began to disintegrate and die, a victim of predatory capitalism. Much of the tale takes place in East Liberty, a largely Italian section where the Dolce family has lived since the end of WW II. The fathers job as a blast-furnace foreman has supported the family all these years, but now, one year short of retirement, his job comes to an end as US Steel begins to shut down the mill and start over in some third-world country where labor is cheap and nonunionized.
for George, the handsome, clever, golden-boy of a son-hes
on the verge of attending an Ivy League law school-to try and help
with his parents finances. He does this not just by taking a job
in a pharmacy but by getting involved in some heavy-duty gambling. His
desperate need for money leads to an entanglement with neighborhood bookies
and gangsters. While trying to outwit these hard guys, he also enters
into a passionate love affair with his bosss daughter, Sterling.
pretty much sums up the theme of Barthanis novel. George remains
in a state of temporary punishment for most of the book, suspended between
heaven and hell, waiting to learn which world will claim him.