The Red Carnation

by Elio Vittorini.
New Directions, $3.00.
In spite of its Italian background and its far wider applicability, this novel is bound to remind many readers of The Catcher in the Rye. It is in the first person, and it describes an adolescent’s efforts to establish himself on an adult footing — efforts which involve him in a series of absurdities and improprieties. It shows a similar penetration into the mind of a boy who dreams of being a worth-while, respected man and remains a dreadful but attractive brat. It is at the same time agonizing and comic.
Aside from these parallels, The Red Carnation is a very different kind of book. It is set against the rising power of Mussolini, a disorderly period which gives young Mainardi plenty of opportunity to work off his energy in riot and racket. He wavers between nostalgia for the simplicities of childhood and demands for a man’s responsibility. He respectfully worships a pretty schoolgirl and carries on a love affair with a prostitute who frankly mothers him. His sufferings are real and he suspects they are ridiculous. Under the circumstances, the external violence of Fascist politics looks like a perfect solution, combining release with submission to authority. Mainardi’s salvation is that he chooses the authority of Zobeida, the prostitute, instead of that, of Fascism.