The AV Club: If only the sting of young love was My Brilliant Friend’s sole source of pain

On The AV Club

Allison Shoemaker – Dec 5, 2018

Lenú sits alone on the beach, in the dark. The air is warm, the breeze off the ocean cool and sweet. The sand has cooled down, slightly damp to the touch; she burrows her heels and wiggles her fingers, and the grains make room. The waves crash, soft but relentless, a welcome hum that ensures, just as the darkness does, that she feels properly alone, unobserved, unheard. She’s free to cry as though no one will ever know, and in fact, no one will. The breeze whips her hair and the hem of her skirt, and she cries, and the cry is a relief, a blessing. Her 15-year-old heart is a powerful muscle, and it aches beautifully. It stirs up a longing, terrible and marvelous.

The sand was cold, gray-black in the moonlight, the sea scarcely breathed. There was not a living soul and I began to weep with loneliness…. What signs did I carry, what fate? I thought of the neighborhood as a whirlpool from which any attempt at escape was an illusion. Then I heard the rustle of sand, I turned, I saw the shadow of Nino.

In a better world, this review would center on how acutely Saverio Costanzo, Elena Ferrante, and Margherita Mazzucco communicate the almost unbearable teenaged pang of loving someone who doesn’t love you back. It would praise that scene, and see all else through the lens of gorgeous, dreadful young love. That it cannot do so is not a failing on the part of My Brilliant Friend. It’s a failing of the way things are. That scene, with Lenú on the beach, rings so true that it makes hearts much older than 15 wring with just a touch of that same kind of longing. But that’s only one scene. There are others, and they’re every bit as honest as that cry on the beach.

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