The Ancestor by Danielle Trussoni
Custom House (ISBN 978-0-06-291277-0)
While Danielle Trussoni’s spellbinding novel The Ancestor could be categorized as a mystery, further definition remains, well, something of a mystery.
On first note, Trussoni’s novel smacks amazingly of Joyce Carol Oates’ labyrinthine 1980 novel Bellefleur with its unspoken family secrets. Read on, and you feel like you’re entering the world of the captivating film Last of the Dog Soldiers. Read further, and you feel as though you’re living in Jean M. Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear. Well, Trussoni’s novel has hints of those works but much more.
The Ancestor is the story of Alberta “Bert” Monte, who learns that her ancestral name is Alberta Isabelle Eleanor Vittoria Montebianco, when she inherits a vast estate and castle in the shadow of Mount Blanc in the Italian Alps. While it seems a windfall at first, Alberta soon learns that the debt-ridden estate has been mismanaged for decades.
Alberta has immediate foreboding after a helicopter lands her on the castle grounds and she is attacked by a vicious guard dog. “The brutality of the wind, the torture of subzero temperatures, the distant moon that rose in the sky – this was the world of my forbears. I felt it then, the presence of something kindred in the landscape, an intimate connection between me and the mountains, and I understood that this savage place was in my blood. This vast, stark place, this thin air and soaring sky, this desolation – all had produced me.”
In time, Alberta discovers that a family genetic disorder could be what has caused her series of miscarriages. When she meets her great-grandmother Vita, who was rumored to suffer from a severe intellectual disorder, she discovers instead an articulate woman who is a carrier of a tragic genetic makeup extending for generations.
Just as the Montebianco family has been held by the fatal gene, so is Alberta virtually held captive on the castle grounds. She flees, only to be captured again by anthropologists who want to put her on display like a living fossil. She is freed, only to be returned to the castle where she faces a gauntlet of tragedies.
Only when Alberta meets a village of her true ancestors does she realize the reality of her heritage.
Trussoni, a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, is originally from La Crosse, Wis., and lives in New York’s Hudson Valley.
(Michael Tidemann writes from Estherville, Iowa. His author page is amazon.com/author/michaeltidemann)
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