Messina, who died in her late 40s in 1944, was a rarity, a woman from Sicily who wrote about the impoverished reality of Sicilian women’s lives.
From the evidence of this slim collection of ten stories, accompanied by an extensive introduction and afterword by translator Magistro, Messina aimed to capture with as much naturalism as possible the inner and outer landscape in which her female protagonists dwelled. The results are brief fragmentary slices of long, barely endurable lives. The opening story, “Grace,” sets the tone, depicting the helplessness of a woman waiting in desperation for a worthless man she knows has strayed. Similar is the desperation of the deaf wife with a cheating husband in “Ciancianedda.” Four of the stories deal directly with the flow of Sicilian men to La Merica, and the women they leave behind. In “America 1911,” a wife trying to accompany her husband is rejected for health reasons and goes mad. In “Dainty Shoes,” a woman whose fiancé has gone to La Merica to earn enough money for their wedding is forced to marry another man to avoid starvation before her true love returns. When her son leaves for America, a mother has nothing to live for but her grandson, but then the son sends for him too (“Grandmother Lidda”). In one of the strongest stories, “America 1918,” a husband returns after eight years to find his wife as changed and foreign to him as he has become to her. “I Take You Out” and “Red Roses” concern women of the middle class who are trapped into solitude by their families. Ironically, in “Her Father’s House,” an unhappily married woman who tries to return home realizes suicide is her only escape. In the unusually detailed “Caterina’s Loom,” a pretty young girl evolves under the pressures of her life into a resigned spinster.
Individually slight, as a volume the stories give a pretty devastating picture of Sicilian life in the early 20th century.