UNDER THE JAGUAR SUN
At his death, Calvino had completed three of a projected five stories concerning the senses, one to each. The three here are about taste, hearing, and smell. The title story concerns a long-married couple touring Mexico, eating wildly exciting spicy food but dead in the marriage bed, in a sexual drought. Yet as a friend begins to suggest to them that the chiles of Mexican cuisine originally might have been used by the Maya to mask the taste of human flesh, the couple's lust re-inflames. The middle story is the best--"A King Listens"--about a king trapped by his title in the palace, literally unable to leave the throne lest someone else usurp it, and the phantasmagorical aural sensitivity he experiences as he parses his very tenuous existence by means of the sounds he hears in the palace around him. Calvino was a genius of the empty--able to invest air itself with the most meaty cognitive clues--and this story is a grand example. The last deals with smell--intercutting between a Parisian rake shopping for perfumes, a prehistoric man still dependent on information by nose, and the decadence of a London rock star at a groupie-orgy. It's a schematic, overly done piece that lacks focus. Not major Calvino in any way.