A trio of self-styled novellas brimming with potential.
Nero’s (Visiting Vincent Van Gogh, 2010, etc.) sparse cast is made up of lost individuals orbiting the fringes and seeking some form of autonomy, real or imagined. “Whatever you are,” suggests one character, “like me, you are an outsider. Outside of your order, outside of society, outside of wherever and whatever it is that you came from.” In The Nun and the Partisan, Sister Vinessa uses a book of mnemonics to create a “mental palace” that offers respite from the monotony of Italian convent life. Her seemingly harmless daydreams take a cerebral turn when she encounters a rebel soldier on the convent grounds and imprisons him in her mind. A dusty campfire tale, Runners in the Night centers on a council of vagabonds debating the existence of the elusive, Atlantis-like city of Barston. When a drifter named Virgil happens upon their camp, claiming to have spent years in that paradise only to be cast out forever, they implore him to share his story. His recollection is filled with enough raw longing to send readers scanning a globe for Barston’s mythical coordinates. Though Vito’s Big Score is the longest story, offering the most in the way of plot, it’s also the weakest of the three. Drawing on the author’s own career as an artist, it chronicles the rise of disgruntled Vito, a painter whose brilliant oeuvre is ignored by the galleries because he doesn’t fit the attractive artist’s profile. He finds a solution in his zealous younger neighbor, Guido, who christens himself Mimo di Modi and passes off Vito’s paintings as his own. As Guido’s fame ignites, Vito finds himself resenting the boy’s self-aggrandizing behavior. Its frenetic dialogue and partially realized characters leave it feeling more like a draft than the former two stories. The novellas excel in their spare, reflective qualities that can feel fablelike, though they read more like a series of sketches than a complete body of work.
A palatable collection that has some trouble finding its way home.