I admit, I’ve not been what you’d call a fan of experimental literature, but I may be revising my opinion. I recently discovered Italo Calvino through some of his excerpts, and was pleasantly surprised to find I loved all of his pieces. I didn’t hesitate to purchase two of his books, and will review them when I’m finished.
One excerpt from his novel “If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller” was the first to hook me, but “The Flash” was my favourite. I found it a simple allegorical illustration of how it feels to have an epiphany about the difference between the superficial reality our Ego can perceive, and those brief glimpses of the true reality free of all physical limits like time and space. It’s an illustration nearly everyone can relate to, and describes those moments of clarity we can find through dreams and meditation. In those timeless moments between sleep and wakefulness, dreams can provide instant and perfect clarity through emotion without using any language at all, and yet no matter how hard we fight to hold onto it, that understanding is fleeting, fading back into our subconscious when we’re fully awake.
Traditionally, I’ve found heavy literature hard to read because it’s not easily digestible, and I always end up reading it two or three times at least while trying to tease out more meaning. Calvino’s stories however, offer fascinating examples of how a writer can define and show us new ways to understand the ultimate Universal Truths we all recognize, despite being told through the extremely narrow lens of the authors’ experience. Personally, I think it requires a lot of thought on the part of the reader to try and find what’s relatable, and then use those understandings as a kind of Rosetta stone to extrapolate what everything else means. Calvino is intriguing because I would say he writes equal parts Philosophy and Literature, but I don’t consider it storytelling, which makes sense because I don’t sense he wants to tell us a story so much as show us a path to deeper truths through the mundane fog of triviality.
If you haven’t heard of Calvino, or read any of his work, then try the excerpts in the links above. Great stuff!
My faith in the short story genre has been renewed, and not a moment too soon. After reading all the stories in the Best American Short Stories 2012 for a course, I was beginning to think my dismay and cynicism for this genre was becoming pathological.
Not so! This is an absolutely wonderful, and amazing story! A wickedly decadent journey where the reader gets to indulge in the guilty pleasures of watching a cold calculating plot for revenge unfold with clever precision. In creating a main character like Verna, it’s extremely easy to slip into stereotypes, tropes, and eye rolling cliche. However, there isn’t so much as a hint of any literary faux pas, on the contrary, this story shines as an example of how literature can be impressive, brilliant and thoroughly enjoyable. Ms. Atwood does a masterful job of stripping away the feminine mystique and replacing it with compelling complexity. She lets the mask of normality slip bit by bit, slowly hinting at Verna’s broken past, callousness, and questionable moral compass, so that when we get a taste of the depth of narcissicm and sociopathy, it’s a confirmation of a suspicion not a shock that feels jarring or unearned.
Wow, I could go on and on about this one, but I don’t want to write too many spoilers. Trust me, seek this one out. It’s a short story but one that makes me wish it had been a full length novel.