A trip to Italy reignites a woman’s desires to disastrous effect in this dark ode to womanhood, death, and sex
To cool-headed, fastidious Pricilla Messing, Italy will be an escape, a brief glimpse of freedom from a life that's starting to feel like one long decline.
Rescued from the bedside of her difficult mother, forty-something Cilla finds herself called away to Rome to keep an eye on her wayward teenage niece, Hannah. But after years of caregiving, babysitting is the last thing Cilla wants to do. Instead she throws herself into Hannah's youthful, heedless world—drinking, dancing, smoking—relishing the heady atmosphere of the Italian summer. After years of feeling used up and overlooked, Cilla feels like she's coming back to life. But being so close to Hannah brings up complicated memories, making Cilla restless and increasingly reckless, and a dangerous flirtation with a teenage boy soon threatens to send her into a tailspin.
With the sharp-edged insight of Ottessa Moshfegh and the taut seduction of Patricia Highsmith, The Worst Kind of Want is a dark exploration of the inherent dangers of being a woman. In her unsettling follow-up to Catalina, Liska Jacobs again delivers hypnotic literary noir about a woman whose unruly desires and troubled past push her to the brink of disaster.
Jacobs's intoxicating second novel (after 2017's Catalina) is a love letter to Italy and an evocative study of grief and desire. Forty-three-year-old Priscilla "Cilla" Messing jumps at the chance to trade Los Angeles for Rome, leaving the bedside of her demanding mother, who is rehabilitating after a fall. Cilla's 15-year-old niece, Hannah, who lives in Rome, is still reeling after the death of her mother, Emily, Cilla's sister, a year earlier, and is exhibiting concerning behavior. Hannah's father, Paul, hopes that Cilla will have a calming effect. In Rome, Cilla soon falls into a routine of after-school walking tours with Hannah and 17-year-old Donato, the son of Paul's writing partner and the object of Hannah's affection. Donato is an eager tour guide and his innocent flirtation awakens something dangerous in Cilla. Eventually, Cilla and Donato are stealing moments alone, and their liaisons begin to consume Cilla, leading to devastating consequences. Jacobs threads a vein of low menace throughout the dreamlike beauty of Rome, signaling the inevitable result of Cilla and Donato's doomed affair. As their dalliance intensifies, Cilla reflects on her aging body, her complex relationship with Emily, her death, and a life lived at the expense of her own needs. Jacobs's haunting portrait of one woman's transformative and, ultimately, tragic summer will linger with readers.