Review: ‘Everything Calls for Salvation’ by Daniele Mencarelli

everything calls for salvation

Everything Calls for Salvation, translated from the Italian by Wendy Wheatley, has been loosely adapted into a Netflix series of the same name, the first episode of which will air on October 14, 2022.

The story follows twenty-year-old Daniele as he wakes up in a psychiatric ward following a mental breakdown. Condemned to a week of “involuntary commitment,” he takes note of the unsettled men around him, the unraveling paths inside his mind, the cyclonic rotation of disdainful nurses and doctors, as well as the eerie section that intrigues and repulses with the screams of “the bad people.”

The very term provokes a relentless rumination on the good, the bad, and the actual that both life and the flesh demand of the physical world. Not to be outdone, the dedication proves just as arresting, “To fighters, To crazies.” Driven into his bed by the cumulative misery in the room, Daniele finds himself frozen in a state of unwilful immediacy,

“One step at a time, he creeps closer. Impossible to escape. My incapacity to fight him off, even just scream, increases my terror.”

The intensity of this moment, the very inability to “escape this ferocity,” spills into the book’s other passages, converging into a flooded psyche. Poetic language heaves Daniele closer to the peak which he “must reach,” shoves him into the abyss he “must touch (…).” To his own ruin, he stalks salvation, his “obsession” and “pathological desire.” And we follow.

Heavyset humanity guides us, adding potency to the story’s unyielding blaze of directives, and dimension to the eternity demanded of the struggling present. It leaves some bodies altogether in order to expand the horror of those that remain, pushing them toward meaning; in pursuit of the essence of life, loss, and enduring for the sake of continuity. 

Despite the obvious constraints of Daniele’s world, the first portion of Everything Calls for Salvation offers a refreshing mix of levity and anguish. Much like two primary colors coming together, this blend creates its own, separate entity.

We see arousal spring from the mere sight of a word on paper (“PLEASURE”), and camaraderie from an involuntary act of violence. Much like Daniele’s mind, the ward’s actuality is upended, baring the intricacies of self-preservation. And, mixed in with Daniele’s recollections of his as yet brief and restless life, are notes of stark intellectualism. Like iodine, they serve to sterilize; in this case, by disinfecting the vibrancy of love and rage.

As we accompany Daniele on his week of struggle and desperation, we, too, begin to contemplate the way in which “civilizations find different ways of prescribing sense and meaning,” pinpointing the cultural factor of religion. And yet, despite the rationality that taunts Daniele’s deliverance, when tragedy strikes, the men kneel down to pray.

Even our narrator, as secular as he seems, lives by his own invocation; a thought that’s both poignant and wholly unrestrained, “Holy Medicine, please watch over me and guide me, make me become normal, make me be worthy of my home. Amen.”

This duality is perhaps the most human element of all. There’s the cohesive brain, and then the distinct regions that rebel against its stable reign. It’s no surprise, then, that the narrator is complex, oftentimes confused, and insufficient to his own eye.

Above all, he’s tempered by a sense of disorientation and vulnerability; one that allows him to pour tendon and bone into his poetry, then feel both mortified and delighted at the thought of bringing it to life for others.

What offsets the fragility of the moment is Doctor Mancino’s disdain; baffling, wounding, and obsessive because of its absoluteness. Just one of the many faces that close up at the sight of the patients, he represents the rupture in relations between the “ill” and the “mentally fit.”

In fact, Daniele puts considerable effort into revealing just how non-existent the line between the two truly is, and how susceptible to the whims of the imperative.

By exposing one doctor’s contempt and another’s feigned attentiveness, Mencarelli hones in on the dehumanizing, alienating position of being a “lowly mechanism to put back together,” uninteresting, undeserving of “a place in [the doctor’s] memory.” And so, the apathy of the staff is a wounding constant, “He closes me up in the medical folder marked with my name. As far as he is concerned, all of me is in there.”

Stuck staring at a wall, “staring at [himself],” Daniele encloses his frequently profound thoughts in a whirl of staccato sentences and revisited introspections. This creates a hum, a flickering of overhead LED lamps. And, much like the hospital rooms in which these can be found, the buzz proves stagnant. As he states,

“The real penalty dealt out by destiny is the reiteration of past experiences, like the re-runs of a show, an eternal theater premiere.”

Nevertheless, from this agitation emanates a vision of mental torment, “Alessandro is like an insect crystallized in invisible amber.” The visibility of the psyche inside the ward summons an intensity that devastates all previous levity.

Daniele is thwarted by feeling, contemplation, and the desire to be better; an earnestness that incites woeful self-effacement. He readily acknowledges his role in another’s misfortune, and accepts his family’s emotional detachment despite its damage.

Hence, Everything Calls for Salvation does, inevitably, take a mental toll on the reader; mainly by urging steadiness and self-destructive empathy. And yet, it’s an experiment in being more so than persevering.

We see that stillness often requires more effort than conditioned activity, “A man contemplating the limits of his existence is not sick. He’s simply alive.” And, as we quickly learn, agony preserved in the shape of words proves palpable, absolute. It stands proudly on the page and chases fleeing gazes.

What allows us to go on, especially once the comedic facet of peculiarity has dried up, is the growing camaraderie — familial feeling, even — between the men. In turns erratic and familiar, it both unites them in their struggle, and splits them apart with its volatility.

Gianluca’s advances, as relentless and unwelcome as they prove, are nevertheless a production of the man’s sensitivity. Giorgio’s vehemence spurs the greatest devotion, and the most drastic brutality.

In short, Everything Calls for Salvation is a reflection of the immediacy and wonder we seldom heed in the present moment. It turns disappointment into despair, a smile into an overwhelming lust for life, passion into dread, and fear into death. It’s a way of existing, of pausing to listen to every thought that wails and hisses, in an effort to be without perishing.

Publication date: January 10, 2023 (Europa Editions)


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