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Showing posts from September, 2019

New Yorker Fiction Review #231: "To Do" by Kate Walbert

Review of a short story from the Sept. 2, 2019 issue...

There's a lot to like in this story. A lot of stuff "going on," we might say. I'm not exactly sure what it all adds up to, what point the author is trying to make, necessarily, but it was an entertaining read.

In this relatively short story you've got a teenage tennis phenom, a drunken, irresponsible mother, a woman who sleeps with her locksmith after calling him to unlock her door, not one but two instances of a woman balancing spoons on her nipples, and a woman's spoken word night in which the main character -- Constance -- reads one of her mother's to-do lists. Constance's mother apparently kept all her to-do lists over the years, and Constance likes to go through them and look for clues to her mother's psyche, or just to feel closer to her.

Much of the action of the short story takes place in the main character's memories of her mother, when she was middle-aged and drunk much of the t…

Book Review: Difficult Loves (1970), by Italo Calvino

Other than a couple short stories in The New Yorker, I had never read anything by Italo Calvino before reading this book of short stories, Difficult Loves. I knew Calvino only as one of the giants of Italian literature and the author of beautifully written short stories that really did not have a point. I won't say that my opinion of him has changed that much after reading this short story collection; however, I devoured this collection and at least now have an understanding and respect for Calvino as a post-modernist writer and a writer of damned entertaining stories that sometimes have a point and sometimes don't.

If you're unfamiliar with Calvino's work, I would highly recommend this book as an entry point. The stories are very accessible, often beautiful and poetic, sometimes violent, often laugh-out-loud funny, and always insightful, even if it's in a way you can't precisely put your finger on.

While it's impossible to summarize the plot of a short st…

Book Review: Beneath a Scarlet Sky (2017), by Mark Sullivan

You will like this book if a.) you like thrillers and/or historical fiction, b.) you are interested in World War II, c.) you are interested in World War II as it played-out in Italy. If at least two out of three of those do not apply to you, you might as well not even bother reading Beneath a Scarlet Sky. Fortunately, I fall into all three categories.

Beneath a Scarlet Sky is the compelling (and mostly true) story of Pino Lella, a teenager growing up in WWII-ravaged Milan. When he is sent out of the war-torn city to a rural summer camp on the Italian-Swiss border, run by priests, he begins ferrying Jewish refugees across the border into Switzerland. But that's just where the adventures begin for Pino, who ends up (among other things) working as a spy for the Italian resistance, falling in love, and even (***SPOILER ALERT***) coming face-to-face with Benito Mussolini. 
Action-packed, and expertly-paced, this book accomplishes what a great thriller (indeed, any great story) should:…

Just Another Day?

I was sitting in the coffee shop this morning, when I overheard a customer at the register. The barista asked him: "How's your day going?" and he said: "You know, it's just another day."

This struck me for some reason.

Part of me can understand what he meant. As in... "there is nothing particularly odd or different about this day, I have the same stuff to do, nothing in my life has changed, I feel no better or worse about my life than yesterday," etc. Sure. We can all understand this attitude. However...

...saying it's "just another day" could not be further from the truth. Today is September 5th, 2019 A.D. A date that will never, ever come again. Furthermore, in the ever advancing train of seconds, days, weeks, months, years that is your life, today is most certainly a day that will never be repeated. It might look like a lot of other days you've had, but it is not. It's a once in a lifetime (literally) chance to do somethi…