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THE PENGUIN BOOK OF ITALIAN SHORT STORIES

Remarkable stories from a wide range of writers describe the mundane and the fantastic, the everyday and the sublime.

An anthology of 20th-century Italian literature.

Thanks largely to Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels, Italian literature has been experiencing a kind of renaissance in the United States. That makes this a propitious time for the release of a new anthology, edited by Lahiri (In Other Words, 2016, etc.), of Italian short stories in translation. Some of the names included here, like Primo Levi and Italo Calvino, will be familiar to American readers; others, like Elio Vittorini and Leonardo Sciascia, may be less so. In Levi’s “Quaestio de Centauris,” a centaur falls desperately in love with a human girl. In Sciascia’s “The Long Voyage,” a group of Sicilians pay 250,000 lire each to be ferried to America and are surprised to find themselves, in the end, somewhere else. In her introduction, Lahiri explains her criteria for the selections included here: She wanted “a wealth of styles, and a range of voices,” and no living authors (nothing by Ferrante here). She’s also made a concerted effort to include stories written by women. Writers like Elsa Morante and Natalia Ginzburg, whose books have recently been reissued in English, have been receiving increased attention; their stories, here, are a delight to read. There’s also a wonderful story, “Generous Wine,” by Italo Svevo, in which a man who has been ordered by his doctor to diet and abstain from drinking goes to a wedding and partakes, liberally, of everything. “I ate and drank,” he says, “not out of hunger or thirst but out of eagerness for freedom. Each bite, each sip, had to be a declaration of independence.” Later, of course, he’s filled with regret. Taken one by one, each story in this volume is a jewel. Taken all together, the book is a remarkable introduction to Italian literature and a great gift to the English-speaking reader.

Remarkable stories from a wide range of writers describe the mundane and the fantastic, the everyday and the sublime.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-241-29983-8

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2019

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THE MOST FUN WE EVER HAD

Characters flip between bottomless self-regard and pitiless self-loathing while, as late as the second-to-last chapter, yet...

Four Chicago sisters anchor a sharp, sly family story of feminine guile and guilt.

Newcomer Lombardo brews all seven deadly sins into a fun and brimming tale of an unapologetically bougie couple and their unruly daughters. In the opening scene, Liza Sorenson, daughter No. 3, flirts with a groomsman at her sister’s wedding. “There’s four of you?” he asked. “What’s that like?” Her retort: “It’s a vast hormonal hellscape. A marathon of instability and hair products.” Thus begins a story bristling with a particular kind of female intel. When Wendy, the oldest, sets her sights on a mate, she “made sure she left her mark throughout his house—soy milk in the fridge, box of tampons under the sink, surreptitious spritzes of her Bulgari musk on the sheets.” Turbulent Wendy is the novel’s best character, exuding a delectable bratty-ness. The parents—Marilyn, all pluck and busy optimism, and David, a genial family doctor—strike their offspring as impossibly happy. Lombardo levels this vision by interspersing chapters of the Sorenson parents’ early lean times with chapters about their daughters’ wobbly forays into adulthood. The central story unfurls over a single event-choked year, begun by Wendy, who unlatches a closed adoption and springs on her family the boy her stuffy married sister, Violet, gave away 15 years earlier. (The sisters improbably kept David and Marilyn clueless with a phony study-abroad scheme.) Into this churn, Lombardo adds cancer, infidelity, a heart attack, another unplanned pregnancy, a stillbirth, and an office crush for David. Meanwhile, youngest daughter Grace perpetrates a whopper, and “every day the lie was growing like mold, furring her judgment.” The writing here is silky, if occasionally overwrought. Still, the deft touches—a neighborhood fundraiser for a Little Free Library, a Twilight character as erotic touchstone—delight. The class calibrations are divine even as the utter apolitical whiteness of the Sorenson world becomes hard to fathom.

Characters flip between bottomless self-regard and pitiless self-loathing while, as late as the second-to-last chapter, yet another pleasurable tendril of sisterly malice uncurls.

Pub Date: June 25, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-54425-2

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2019

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HOUSE OF LEAVES

The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and...

An amazingly intricate and ambitious first novel - ten years in the making - that puts an engrossing new spin on the traditional haunted-house tale.

Texts within texts, preceded by intriguing introductory material and followed by 150 pages of appendices and related "documents" and photographs, tell the story of a mysterious old house in a Virginia suburb inhabited by esteemed photographer-filmmaker Will Navidson, his companion Karen Green (an ex-fashion model), and their young children Daisy and Chad.  The record of their experiences therein is preserved in Will's film The Davidson Record - which is the subject of an unpublished manuscript left behind by a (possibly insane) old man, Frank Zampano - which falls into the possession of Johnny Truant, a drifter who has survived an abusive childhood and the perverse possessiveness of his mad mother (who is institutionalized).  As Johnny reads Zampano's manuscript, he adds his own (autobiographical) annotations to the scholarly ones that already adorn and clutter the text (a trick perhaps influenced by David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest) - and begins experiencing panic attacks and episodes of disorientation that echo with ominous precision the content of Davidson's film (their house's interior proves, "impossibly," to be larger than its exterior; previously unnoticed doors and corridors extend inward inexplicably, and swallow up or traumatize all who dare to "explore" their recesses).  Danielewski skillfully manipulates the reader's expectations and fears, employing ingeniously skewed typography, and throwing out hints that the house's apparent malevolence may be related to the history of the Jamestown colony, or to Davidson's Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of a dying Vietnamese child stalked by a waiting vulture.  Or, as "some critics [have suggested,] the house's mutations reflect the psychology of anyone who enters it."

The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and cinema-derived rhetoric up the ante continuously, and stunningly.  One of the most impressive excursions into the supernatural in many a year.

Pub Date: March 6, 2000

ISBN: 0-375-70376-4

Page Count: 704

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2000

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