WHEN IN FLORENCE by Richard Cortez Day


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Fifteen rather comfortably old-fashioned stories, generally easy-going but descending now and then into well-worn banalities, all of which are about people who live in, hail from, or visit Florence, Italy. A good part of the volume's charm comes from Day's method of linking the pieces. In ""A Chagall Story,"" Guido Ianotti, a colorful old native of the city, dies of a heart attack on the street outside a neighborhood bakery, causing a brief flurry of activity. A casual bystander in that story becomes the central character in the next, and observes, as his own story unfolds, that ""a man had died, and the incident had brought a number of lives temporarily together, and then they had separated."" One such life is that of an American girl in the third story, whose own father is dying, and who also happens by the bakery at the moment of Guido's heart attack, her presence once again delicately suggesting the interrelatedness of lives in the city, like ripples moving outward from the splash of a small stone. The stories that follow are sometimes little more than slice-of-life sketches, as in ""Leaning Man,"" a day in the life of a crippled beggar; and sometimes they are all-but-encumbered by ambitious plotting, as in ""Two Paces East,"" in which an American professor comes to write on Dante, is beat up by thugs, and goes through his own symbolic Dantean journey. Rich in the lore of Florence is ""Memory,"" in which an American-born art-restorer imagines himself a reincarnation of Michele Martini, lesser brother to the great painter Simone Martini; more self-conscious is ""The Violation,"" in which a girt learns, unconvincingly late, that she is half-Jewish; and among the thinner of the pieces is ""Idiots,"" a conventional satire of pampered Americans abroad. Not always able to maintain a convincing tone (""God gave me leukemia."" ""Oh, I'm sorry. That's awful. But don't lose hope""), Day nevertheless delivers long moments of richness in this prose-version Spoon River Anthology of Florence. On balance, more pleasurable than not, and at some moments considerably more than that.

Pub Date: Jan. 3rd, 1985
ISBN: 0595092551
Publisher: Doubleday