RUN TO THE WATERFALL by Arturo Vivante
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It's not very often that a group of short stories can draw more heat and substance from emotional life than a novel can; but these 15 glimpses of a half-Jewish family in pre- and postwar Siena, Italy, are more moving than any novel could be--even though they aren't clearly linked by precise chronology or a consistent narrator voice. In fact, Vivante's graceful refractions here--little repetitions, echoes, gentle changes in angle, tone, time, or voice--supply much of the resonance and glow. Some of the tales are told by the grown-up younger son of the house--ex-physician Giacomo, now a painter, married, with children, living in Massachusetts; some are told by a detached observer. But all of them, even Giacomo's confessions of mid-life marital shallows, are pulled back to that house and farm in Siena where Giacomo's father (a frustrated, remote philosopher) and mother (a superb conversationalist, letter-writer, artist) tried to live in some style with no real income: there are Father's endless, doomed attempts at orcharding, and, after wartime flight to England, the taking-in of paying houseguests. Rich, half-comic memories--but always, beneath the rosy intellectual liveliness, there are suspicions--Mother's jubilant friendship with a witty lichenologist (and Father's steely jealousy), the tortuous revelation of longtime cheating by Father's trusted foreman. . . whom Giacomo remembers tearfully bidding the boys farewell in wartime. And, after Mother's death (Giacomo cleans up her empty room beautifully and ""Looking at her bed, he could almost see her uncovering her eyes and catching her breath to show him her delight""), the unchangeable friction between frail, demanding Father and tied-down son becomes the dominant, harrowing chord. But when Father is dead and the Siena estate is sold, U.S. citizen Giacomo--never lamentational about his current life, never very happy about it either--begins dogged house-hunting: ""I don't want to leave Italy without owning something in it."" Rarely have a man's grown-up sensibilities and family-bound memories been bounced off each other with such sparse eloquence, such quiet passion. A serenely commanding, delicate triumph.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1979
Publisher: Scribners