Here comes the rain again, and a storied Italian city washes away in this brooding novel by a Milanese transplant to southern Italy.
While he worked in publishing, as so many Italian writers do, Italo Calvino discovered and published this slender novel in 1977. It made a mark, then disappeared, reissued only after the author’s death in 2012. Why he withheld it—his only novel—from being reprinted is a mystery. In a theme that nicely complements Max Frisch’s near-contemporaneous Man in the Holocene, the story opens with fogged windows and rain-lashed streets, “with inky streaks and sudden gusts, the wind blowing up Via Marittima on the corner of Piazza del Municipio, and beyond, and beyond….” Transfixed, a weary journalist named Carlo Andreoli collects odd sightings: here a sinkhole opens, swallowing roads and buildings; there spectral voices whisper from ancient castle walls. The scene shifts, now to a police commissioner who is wondering just how he is going to explain those odd sightings: “What answer would he give to Rome, otherwise, if they asked him to explain the voices?” What answer indeed? Pugliese occasionally swings into the satirical, mimicking Moravia here and the Mafia novel there (“That evening so sweetly autumnal, with all that falling rain defining veils of omertà”), peppering the narrative with sharply realized observations from many points of view, as with the barista who worries, “People would stop coming to Susan’s for coffee the day they realized that if they had coffee at Susan's they also risked ruining a pair of trousers with the muddy water from the puddles.” More often he falls into stream-of-consciousness reveries in which sentences and paragraphs flow like rain for pages, to beautiful effect. One comes at the very end, when Andreoli flashes on the happy thought that maybe, just maybe, the rain will stop pouring down and the sun will shine once more.
Pugliese’s dark story serves as an extended metaphor for whatever the reader might wish: climate change, the human capacity for suffering. A memorable work of modern literature.