The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante

Whoever is selecting the cover art for Ferrante's novels should be summarily dismissed. The covers look like cheap, mass market trade paperbacks of the chick lit genre, the kind that make Costco the world's biggest bookseller (depressing), but inside is the most well-plotted dirty realism being written today, and the added thrill is the stories are all set in the gangster-normalized city of Naples, giving them an exotic, travel-read feel for those of us in the West. None of the English-language reviews I've read mention how skilled Ferrante is at plotting: they all focus on her incredibly layered treatment of female friendship, the quality of her psychological insights, the beauty of her language. Which are all there and all valid and essential, of course, but what binds these aesthetic concerns together with an inalterable power is the constant zigzag of the characters' fortunes. Deft storytelling, in the ancient sense. Lovers cheat in spectacularly flagrant ways, friends get shot on church steps, small children disappear, riches turn to rags, beauties turn fat and bitter, underdogs become millionaires through their own blistering effort. I read late into the night because I had to know what would happen next with Nino; I often felt deliciously shocked by Ferrante's mastery of upsetting my expectations. Long passages of dense exposition often end with tantalizing cliffhangers: and then so-and-so was taken by the police to jail. And the reader is delighted, frustrated-delighted, at not having seen it coming.