Longtime ex-pat Rylands delivers a charming portrait of Venice in a dozen stories that view the city from the perspectives of both natives and outsiders.
There’s always a lilting tone of history here, as though what we’re getting is fiction, travelogue, and lesson all wrapped into one. “Postman” begins with Luigi, “not a spazzino, nor any other kind of steward of the most serene Republic. He was a postino, a minion of the State of Italy.” Luigi’s tour of Venice serves as introduction, and he’s a character who will periodically recur. Venetian society comes under fire in “Collector,” when book heiress Trudi Gotham (another recurring figure) entertains a baroness who’s on the hunt for a particular diary. An American decorator in “Visitor,” in Italy for the first time, provides a more distant picture of Venice as he delivers a package trusted to him by a beautiful woman he meets on the plane. Another foreigner figures in the account of the marriage and fatherhood of a Venetian “Socialite,” Bo Benson, originally of Mobile, Alabama. “Mayor” catalogues the eccentric leader of the town, who skis down the 97 steps from his official abode and plays hooky from official events so he can watch Roman Holiday with his wife. “Mother” returns to Luigi’s apartment and provides a wonderful caricature of the family there—before the home suddenly catches on fire (is something of the old Venice about to be lost?). This is a Venice built not on canals, but on character and emotion. With so much interconnectedness to the tales, you wonder why Rylands, Venetian resident for nearly two decades, didn’t simply stitch them together into a novel that might have read like Lawrence Durrell. But no matter: these are charming tales of the personal vision of a city with a highly public character.
A smart and vivid debut.