The Ham Radio Operator
Enrico, the main character, is a talented young engineer from an Italian small town. Following a period of apprenticeship at the Agip Oil Refinery in Cortemaggiore, he is hired as part of the maintenance department. Despite living in a booming economy, marked by profound social changes, Enrico is indifferent to the charms of the new consumeristic era. He has a good job and a high salary, yet he is not interested in his career, nor he dreams of a new car to show off his beautiful wife to his friends.
What he really enjoys is holing up in his self-built radio station and talk to other ham radio operators around the world. The conversation is always the same: the weather, the signal quality, the power and size of their antennas. All meaningless stuff to most people, especially his wife, Wanda.
Enrico is a fish out of water in optimistic Italy in the early Sixties, a forerunner of all computer freaks, a loner in search of a safe burrow when the pressure of "modern life" gets too overwhelming. Impeccable at work and creative in his hobby, he is a man of few words, devoid of networking skills. He can easily fix a short circuited turntable, but is unable to meet his wife's social ambitions, so as to push her away from himself. All in all, Enrico is a lonely man, alienated from the world. As such, he eventually falls in love with the only woman who can understand him: a Russian cosmonaut lost in space.
Wanda, Enrico's wife, is a woman of her time. She appears to have jumped out from a typical TV commercial from the Sixties, targeting upper middle class housewives. A beautiful, ambitious, dominant woman from Northern Italy, naturally elegant and carefully silent about her humble origins, she is one step away from the new Italian dream: a life with a reliable man, a nice house, two cars, a summer cottage, fashion clothes and, most importantly, the promise of many children.
But as Enrico proves himself unable to give her what she wants, Wanda's love cools off. A year on in her marriage, she feels deceived, betrayed. The thought that her best friend Betty, a not so bright and more ordinary girl, has a far happier life than hers, makes her angry and eager for a payback.
The Smart Ass
For better or worse, Marino is everything that Enrico is not. A loud, good looking guy from Rome, Marino is easy and quick-witted, funny among his co-workers and casual with the girls. Thanks to his notorious chutzpah, he helps Enrico chatting up his future wife, Wanda. After being hired with him at Agip, Marino outdoes his smarter friend at managing his own career, so as to eventually become his boss. The only thing Marino ever envied Enrico is the hand of his beautiful wife, who - at least initially - has inexplicably favoured Enrico over himself.
Marino's affection towards Enrico is undeniable, and yet undermined by his patronizing attitude and his growing passion for Wanda.
Betty is yet another country girl. Although her league is down a few notches from Wanda's, she loves to hang out with the young Agip engineers - an opportunity for social redemption. A playful, garrulous girl with a spontaneous sensuality, Betty comes across as more superficial and simple-minded than her friend, but more honest as well. She shares with Wanda all consumerist ambitions of a woman of her time, but by choosing Marino she has granted herself a prosperous future, thus proving to be a wiser (or luckier) woman than her.
As time goes by, after her baby's birth, her inferiority complex towards Wanda gives way to a subtle feeling of revenge and triumph.