One of the most surprising aspects of writing Ask Me if I'm Happy had to be the way Davide was received by the first folks to read the story. From its earliest days, men and women alike singled Davide out:
"Davide is a knight in shining armor that we all pray for to come save us."
"This Davide fella gets more attractive by the word."
The story was reworked considerably before it appeared on Authonomy, but I was confident it would – for the most part, anyway – pass muster. Again, to my surprise, people still seemed to notice Davide more than I expected:
"This man could seduce an iceberg! I'm half in love with him myself."
"Davide sounds so dreamy - good looking, sophisticated, cultured, kind, and a professor of literature - what girl wouldn't fall for him?"
"… Davide is lovely and one wants to spend time in his company."
I became concerned. Had I written someone too perfect? Had I written someone who couldn't possibly exist in the real world?
This proved rather troubling, as my intention had been to write a story which was, ultimately, very realistic. I wanted both Emily and Davide to strike home for the reader, to be people with whom the reader could identify – not in a fantastic manner, but in recognizing something of themselves as they read along.
I forged forward and the story grew and grew, giving me deeper insight into Davide's mind, his motivations and even his past. Based on "Connections" alone, it's clear he's not the "typical" Italian male. He's studious, perhaps slightly nerdy, honest and conscientious almost to a fault – not the self-involved, vainglorious and self-assured sort of man we're accustomed to imagining as the classic "Italian love interest".
No, Davide is no Casanova, no Valentino, no love-'em-and-leave-'em sort of guy. However, when the moment presents itself, he knows when to step in, when to seize the opportunity to declare himself and his intentions. When he does, he does so with all the fear and trepidation most of us would surely feel for taking such a chance.
In short, Davide is simply himself. A man who doesn't bow to the caprices of fashion and who quietly despairs for a world around him which seems to do just that; who struggles to maintain a standard of civility and propriety which he sees slipping to the wayside; who worships the woman he loves because he isn't able to see her flaws – however many there may be – and can only see her perfection magnified by his love.
Tragically, this may well be his most self-destructive aspect. Davide believes himself to be honest in all things yet his mistrust of anyone's ability to love him, or to be as honest with him as he is with them, keeps the world safely at arm's length. This, combined with his need to protect Emily, is his blessing and his curse. The very things which bring them together are what might well break them apart.
Not long ago, a friend read through Ask Me if I'm Happy and cited Davide's self-imposed isolation, his rejection of societal trends, his need for a deep emotional connection with someone – anyone – as proof that he is a man "out of his time". His initial perfection – as seen through Emily's eyes – gives way to his own view of his imperfection. His self-critical nature stifles his ability to be honest with himself – and thus, with Emily – in the way he knows he needs to be. Of course, this leads to trouble. Just like in real life.
Now, when I hear people telling me how much they admire Davide, how attractive and romantic he is to them, I have a better understanding of why that is. It is my belief that these readers, male and female alike, really do identify with him and with his struggles throughout the novel. They see themselves or their loved ones – or both – in him, and that spurs their desire to see him succeed, to work out his problems and emerge victorious on the other side of the struggle.
Whether or not he does this, I won't say here. You'll just have to read the book to find out.