Or The Seasons in the City
In their first English translation and US publication: 20 short sketches written in the early 1950s and mid-1960s, all featuring the hapless aspirations of Marcovaldo, a father, husband, and unskilled laborer in a northern Italian city. With sly wit and utter economy, Calvino satirizes the drabness of the impoverished 1950s, the hollowness of the "booming" 1960s--yet never settles for easy targets or sentimentality, much preferring the ambivalence of whimsy. Thus, Marcovaldo may be forever yearning for the simpler, pastoral pleasures--and Calvino sympathizes--but his dreamy quests almost always have an under-cutting, wry outcome. With "an eye ill-suited to city life," for instance, Marcovaldo is overjoyed to spy mushrooms sprouting on a city street ("something could still be expected of life, beyond the hourly wage. . . with inflation index"); but this bucolic miracle leads only to a stomach-pump at the local hospital. Likewise, Marcovaldo has little luck with schemes to enjoy the night air, to feast on roast woodcock, to adopt a rabbit, to get his fish direct from the river. Nor, on the other hand, do his attempts at entrepreneurship--offering wasp-sting treatments (for arthritis), collecting free detergent samples, turning ugly neighborhood billboards to economic advantage--work out much better. And sometimes the clash between the realities of Marcovaldo's life and the consumer-society around him result in surreal vignettes: a visit, with empty pockets, to a super-supermarket, filling up cart after cart with unbuyable items; a disoriented ramble through the dark city, looking for the right tram. . . but winding up on an India-bound airplane. Rich with implications about the social milieu, yet far more insistent on fable-like charm than any message: a gentle, small early-Calvino treat, shrewdly translated and agreeably packaged.