Dazzling early Calvino, stories from the mid-Forties and the Fifties. There are four categories: "Riviera Stories," "Wartime Stories," "Postwar Stories"--and "Stories of Love and Loneliness," in which some of Calvino's later, expanded-on conceptual concerns (reading, photography, people uncomfortable within the environments they've created themselves) have begun to emerge. And the most wonderful of these, as comic as it is metaphysically profound, is "The Adventure of a Bather": a matron, swimming alone, loses the bottom of her bathing suit and cannot emerge from the sea, realizing that it is her nakedness now that has become the greater sea, overtaking and overcoming her like an error that must be paid for. Likewise, the "Riviera Stories"--sun-shot, fragile works--align with Calvino's interest in fairy tales; each is about an Eden of sorts, with illusions of happiness, farces of shame, and Oblomovian cheerfulness ("Lazy Sons") in the face of objective defect. But the surprise for English-speaking readers, most of whom know only later Calvino, will be the "Wartime" and "Postwar" stories. In the first group Calvino details the horrors of war with enormous realist dignity--focusing on Italian peasants whose cunning is the sole weapon left to defend themselves with; the terror is made strangely more terrible by the peasants' blend of naivete and keen perceptions. (How bullets, for instance, somehow make the whole world feel as if it's made mostly of air.) And, though more relaxed and humorous, the "Postwar Stories" are abrim with the same humanity: burglars in a bakery, prostitute shortages, sleeping arrangements of refugees in a train station, the accommodating schedule of a streetwalker's husband--all funny, sad, unstressed, something like little De Sica films. Calvino, unlike Dine Buzzati (above), eschews heavy and sentimental ironies; unlike Borges, his metafictional resources have no scorn to them, instead a darting kind of tact. In sum: wondrous work from the early career of one of the world's greatest living writers.?