10 April 2013

Review: Numbers in the Dark and Other Stories by Italo Calvino

Trade paperback, 276 pages
Published 1996 (contents: 1943-84)
Acquired March 2008
Read August 2012
Numbers in the Dark and Other Stories
by Italo Calvino

This collects a number of different Italo Calvino short stories, ranging across his entire career. I think they're all stories that haven't been previously published in English. At least, they were all new to me, and I've read a fair few Calvinos at this point. The book opens with a number of goofy 2-3-page stories on various absurd topics (the town where everything was forbidden, or the country where everyone is a thief). These are fun, if flimsy. A lot of later authors have done stuff that reminds me of this (such as Jonathon Keats in The Book of the Unknown, or Michael Ajvaz in The Golden Age, though there are probably better examples), but Calvino was first, and let's be honest, he's probably the best.

The later stuff is longer, and it's all your typical Calvinoesque meanderings, but it's usually good, and when it's not, there's another one along in ten pages or so. I was a big fan of "The Lost Regiment," where an entire regiment goes missing in a very confusing town, or "A General in the Library," where a library is occupied by the military to find subversive material, only they turn out to like reading a whole lot. Come to think of it, there's a lot of stories here that satirize military thickheadedness, which makes sense for someone who resisted the Italian government during World War II. There are also interviews with a Neanderthal, Montezuma, and Henry Ford, which is a weird selection, but entertaining enough.

I have a fondness for his stories that are just ordinary (or seemingly ordinary) people overthinking very small moments. Mostly because I assert that that's what all of us do, or at least it's what I do, which is close enough.

Also good: "The Workshop Hen," about a crackdown on a hen in a workshop and the sadness and bureaucracy that ensues; "Beheading the Heads," about a gruesome tradition in a foreign country; "The Burning of the Abominable House," which reads like Calvino's take on the Clue film; and "Implosion" and "Nothing and Not Much," a couple Qfwfq stories (the same guy/entity/thing who starred in Cosmicomics and t zero).

The best story was "World Memory," about a computer that records all things, and the implications that has for a jealous husband. It actually feels very Stanislaw Lemesque, but then, I always assert that Calvinoesque is Lemesque.

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