(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

On the eve of her twenty-fourth birthday, Carla Ardengo longs to escape her dreary existence, to find a new life. Visiting the Ardengos this evening is Leo Merumeci. He is a frequent guest because he is the lover of Carla’s widowed mother, Mariagrazia, and the holder of the mortgage on the Ardengos’ fashionable villa. Leo has become tired of Mariagrazia, who has been his mistress for fifteen years; he propositions Carla, and she agrees to come to his apartment the next day.

Lisa, who had been Leo’s lover and fiancee before he met Mariagrazia, is also at the villa. Mariagrazia suspects that Lisa and Leo want to renew their affair and that Lisa has come to her house to arrange a rendezvous. The object of her quest, however, is not Leo but Michele, Mariagrazia’s son. Just as Carla consents to give herself to Leo, Michele agrees to see Lisa.

Leo’s attempted seduction suffers a setback at Carla’s birthday party the next day. To make her more pliable, he fills her glass again and again with champagne, so that by the end of the meal she is drunk. They go for a walk on the villa’s grounds, where they happen upon an old shed conveniently equipped with a bed. Just as Leo prepares to have sex with Carla, she becomes ill from the wine, and he must wait until night to consummate the affair.

Lisa’s hopes, too, are temporarily dashed. She has lured Michele to her apartment with the promise of interesting a rich relative in him and...

(The entire section is 599 words.)