As pentimento is to a painting (from the Italian from the verb pentirsi, meaning to repent), palimpsest is to literature (from the Latin palimpsestus, which derives from the Ancient Greek παλίμψηστος (palímpsēstos, “again scraped”)). Palimpsest is a compound word that literally means “scraped clean and ready to be used again”. A pentimento is a visible trace of earlier painting beneath a layer or layers of paint on a canvas and a palimpsest reveals the history of a writing of erased marks or visible traces of previous work.
Frank Molinari narrates this novel, though it reads like a memoir, as he reworks his past of lovers and friendships, career and divorce throughout 350 pages, facing “the changes of getting older, increasing closeness of death, and his irritation with many of the changes that have transpired in this world.”
Charles Fracchia’s “Palimpsest” opens with a trip from San Francisco to San Diego for the funeral of a high school friend. “It was even harder to believe that a band of friends (Italian Americans, Irish Americans, German Americans, mostly) who had gravitated toward one another in a Catholic high school in post-World War II San Francisco had now lost one of their group to a painful death.” Palimpsest’s settings are the city of San Francisco and the Peninsula, from Burlingame to Redwood City and the financial district to Pacific Heights.
Frank’s internal world is philosophical, heavy with Roman Catholicism, and respectful to social traditions, and yet his life includes compartmentalized human failings. Frank’s San Francisco inhabits the time when the tallest building in the city was the Transamerica Pyramid. Frank enjoyed “walking the one-block street named after A.P. Hotaling, a liquor distributor who built two handsome buildings in about 1860. Flanking the street’s northern end on Jackson Street, Hotaling Street, just a stone’s throw from the skyscrapers of the financial district, reminded Frank of a different San Francisco – a city of characters, bright hopes, and limitless possibilities.”
“Palimpsest, A Man’s Life in San Francisco” is a quiet, contemplative read that will have you examining your own life manuscript, trying to edit out events or hang onto precious moments. You can buy Charles Fracchia’s “Palimpsest” on Amazon.