NUMBERS IN THE DARK
and Other Stories
A fascinating, frustrating posthumous collection of short tales (previously unavailable in English) from the great Italian writer (1923-85), assembled and introduced by his widow, Esther Calvino, and vigorously translated by English novelist and Italophile Parks. A series of "Fables and Stories," written between 1943 and 1958, includes such comic dramatizations of intellectual and metaphysical concepts as "Making Do," which ingeniously expresses the difficulties of imposing freedom on a population accustomed to tyranny, and "A General in the Library," in which a military task force investigates the allegation "that books contained opinions hostile to military prestige"--with embarrassing unforeseen results. Here and there, Calvino overexplicitly discloses his stories' morals (it should be remembered that many of this volume's inclusions were left uncompleted at his death). Still, the better pieces won't disappoint Calvino's many admirers. The marvelous title story, for example, reveals to a small boy helping his mother clean office buildings at night the hidden truth about the bogus economic stability of the entire planet. And the unfinished "The Queen's Necklace," a terrific melodrama developed from the fortunes of the story's title object, shimmers with the promise of witty anatomy of the several social levels occupied by its losers and finders. The later "Tales and Dialogues," dating from 1968 to 1984, are comparatively slow-paced and theme-ridden, including pieces written to order for IBM's computer operations department and, of all things, a Japanese distillery. It's make-work stuff, only infrequently showing Calvino in top form. The best selections are "Henry Ford," an unproduced television script in which Calvino simultaneously presents both a stalwart defense of the great industrialist's capitalistic and paternalistic principles and some sly mockery of them, and "Beheading the Heads," a fantasy about periodic executions of elected public officials that offers a classic example of Calvino's ability to transmute concept into hauntingly vivid fiction. A last hurrah from one of the modern masters. Middling Calvino but, for all that, a welcome gift we would not willingly have done without.