Profane Friendship

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Harold Brodkey is a highly respected short story writer whose stories are noted for their intricacies. In 1991, Brodkey published his first novel THE RUNAWAY SOUL. The Italian group, Consorzio Venezia Nuova, invited Brodkey to write a book concerning the city of Venice in 1992. This particular group had been organized for the sole purpose of saving Venice’s heritage.

The novel PROFANE FRIENDSHIP details the friendship between Niles O’Hara and Giangiacomo Galliani. O’Hara is the son of an expatriate American novelist who grows up in Venice during the 1930’s. He becomes friends with the Italian boy Galliani who becomes known as “Onni.” The city of Venice also can be identified as a character in the novel. The friendship of the two boys is interrupted by World War II. After the war, O’Hara returns to find that Venice is not the same vibrant city that it had been before the war. He revives his friendship with Onni and the two adolescents explore their as yet undefined sexual identities. The relationship becomes so intense that at one point O’Hara labels their attachment as a “profane friendship.”

Onni had had the more tortured existence growing up in Italy during the war years. O’Hara seems to be willing to follow Onni’s lead, but he comes to realize that his friend may be no more than a “monster.” Since O’Hara is the narrator of the novel, the reader views what life in Venice was like through his eyes. He reflects on his years growing up as a man in his sixties. After the tumultuous teenage years, the friends do not see each other for many years. Toward the end of the novel, they meet once again in Venice. O’Hara finds Onni to be a film star who still knows how to get under his skin. In the intervening years, O’Hara had become a writer. In PROFANE FRIENDSHIP, Brodkey speaks to how love can both heal and destroy. At times, however, the novel is unnecessarily detailed. The immense writing skill of the author is unfortunately sabotaged by a lack of judicious pruning of text that could have brought clarity of purpose to PROFANE FRIENDSHIP.