The author of Venetian Stories (2003) returns with another enchanting tribute to la Serenissima.
An American who has lived in Venice for more than 30 years, Rylands writes with the simplicity—the apparent transparency—of someone experiencing a world in translation, but she is a singularly perceptive outsider, and her portrait of Venice is finely nuanced. She conveys whole life stories in a few lovely sentences, and she reveals all the charming truths buried within small, inconspicuous encounters. Characters flit through the collection, sometimes in a starring role, sometimes mentioned in passing—just like in life. “Restoration”—a story of love, fate and a crumbling palazzo—balances the vicissitudes of reality with fairy-tale undertones, and “Vocation” offers a similar mix of the provident and the pragmatic. “Design” is a sharply hilarious but not unkind portrait of new money triumphant. “Fortune” is a priceless little comedy of manners, a gem that would shine in any setting. Indeed, each entry in this volume stands on its own as a well-crafted and entertaining work of short fiction, but it’s only in viewing the collection as a whole that one appreciates the grand scope of Rylands’s project. With these subtly intertwined stories, she offers both a telling vision of Venice’s current state of entropy and a carefully hopeful glimpse of its future. Many of the characters in these stories leave Venice, but a few of them return. Foreigners and arrivistes are ejected, but some are embraced. Considered altogether, these stories suggest that the past can only survive when it’s married to the future, and that the real wonder of Venice is not its network of canals but its community of people—noble, flawed, loving, spiteful, sad, gracious, interdependent and wholly human.
Elegant, worldly-wise and as captivating as the city it celebrates.