Twelve stories set mainly in Italy that are meditative, slightly plotted episodic instances—but, at their best, often bright with landscape and reflection. The title story, representative of the tone throughout, is about a girl who can't ski (``Because I was terrified of it, as I was terrified of the century'') but who goes with the ``others'' on a ski-trip to the Italian Alps because ``her beloved'' is there (he's not aware of her feelings). While the others ski, she comes upon the house where Mahler wrote ``The Song of the Earth'' and speculates about him: ``Would Mahler have gone skiing?'' That is, it's a quiet celebration of artistry as opposed to assertion. Likewise, in ``The Gift,'' the narrator goes through all sorts of mental gyrations as she tries to decide on a wedding gift— shopping, figuring all the angles—before realizing that she's gone through ``a lot of fuss about nothing.'' Some of these pieces are like that, whereas others leave an indelible mark: ``Cypresses,'' for instance, which is a reminiscence of a marriage; and ``The Rachmaninoff House,'' which is one of the few stories here with a social context. In it, the narrator becomes fascinated by the music that emanates from a house she passes: ``I couldn't imagine why everyone passing in the street didn't stop and crowd around the house and raise their faces in amazement.'' This entrancement leads her into a story that finally involves refugees and the war. ``The South,'' written in diary form, is an uncharacteristically lively account of a boyfriend's visit to southern Italy, while ``You Can Always Go Down to the Sea'' is a lyrical evocation of an older woman's move to Brighton. Altogether, slight or even a little precious—but, still, a number of stories here compensate with a journey that is ``slow, inwards and down.''
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