The eleven stories in this collection were originally published from 1884 to 1917, in Italian. Dover compiled them and first published this edition in 1995, translated by Stanley Appelbaum. They range in emotional content from deeply impassioned or tragic, to comical, to avante-garde, especially the latter ones. Most of them are about love and relationships, often psychologically brutal in the early examples. Toward the middle of the book, touches of humor are hiding behind the tragedy, as if the author is giving us a wink to make us lighten up. The last few combine humor with experimental or avant-garde styles.
Citrons from Sicily (1900) is about a man, Micuccio, who has arrived to see his fiancé, Teresina. A servant answers the door and tells him she is not there and treats him rather rudely. He is shown into the kitchen and his story unfolds as he waits and reminisces. Poor and from a small town, Teresina's father died leaving her and her mother near starving. Micuccio, a flute player in a small local orchestra fell in love with her, but also recognized the beauty of her voice. He vowed to take care of the two, and sold a little farm he had inherited so Teresina could go to Naples to train her voice. It was agreed when she was finished, the two would be married. Now, he has traveled all this way, but when she arrives, his hopes are dashed. She is surrounded by gentlemen, laughing loudly, scantily dressed. She has become a star, and has many admirers. Her mother is with her and notices Micuccio, then slips away to talk to him. She is heartbroken that he has showed up unannounced, but he understands, even without her speaking that he has been a fool, that he is nothing to Teresina any longer.
In A Voice (1904) the Marchesa Borghi, as a last resort, consults Dr. Giunio Falci over her son Silvio's blindness. Falci doesn't have a good reputation partly because of his behavior But still, the Marchesa is dying and wants to make one last attempt to restore her son's vision. The previous diagnosis had been glaucoma, but Falci did not believe it was so. In fact, he thinks it is a type of cataract, but isn't completely sure, so he does not want to get the hopes up of either Silvio or the Marchesa. He leaves, saying he will return.
Unfortunately, he returns the day the Marchesa dies, and is turned away by Lydia. She had been a housekeeper to the Marchesa, but now has found that Silvio is dependent upon her, begging her to stay on. Little by little, their relationship turns into love. Silvio is handsome and wealthy, but what is she? Plain. It is her voice, and the image he has of her in his mind that he loves, or so she fears. So she allows him to create her in his image. He is blind—he would not really know. But worse yet, she steers him into being completely independent upon her: "There, you're all mine because you don't see yourself and you don't know yourself; because your soul is like a prisoner of your misery and needs me to see, to feel." And so, love blossoms, though Lydia is afraid to believe it, even when she agrees to marry him.
But then that rascal Falci shows up again, this time fairly certain he can restore Silvio's eyesight. Lydia wants him to go away, but he, wiser than expected, voices all her fears, quite aware of what she has done. She eventually agrees to allow them to meet, and an appointment is set up for his surgery shortly before their wedding date. When she hears that the surgery was successful, she furnishes their home, as planned, then runs away.
The Fly (1904) is a tragedy with a bit of sadistic comedy, and a shift point of tone for the remaining stories in this collections. The Tortorici brothers, Neli and Saro are running and out of breath. They have come to fetch the village doctor because their cousin Giurlannu Zarù is dying. The doctor, in a run down dirty house with six children, one dying in his arms, and a bedridden wife—"all in tatters, dirty, running wild; the whole house upside down, a ruin; broken dishes, rinds, the garbage piled on the floor; broken chairs, bottomless armchairs, beds that hadn't been made for who knows how long . . ."
Reluctantly he agrees to come along and they reach Giurlannu Zarù in the stable where he had been sleeping. He is black and swollen, nearly dead. Neli and Zarù were to be married the same day, and Saro and Neli greet Zarù with hope, telling him the doctor is here and he will get well. But the doctor looks at him and says it is anthrax, and asks him if he was bitten by an insect, thinking that it carried the disease from a dead carcass. Just then Zarù remembers the fly, seeing it on the wall puimping its mouth. He remembers being bitten by the fly. Then he sees it land on Neli. He becomes jealous that Neli will be married, and he will be dead. He watches as the fly land on the little scratch on Neli's chin, then digs in. Neli knows he has been bitten. They depart suddenly leaving Zarù alone. Did he only imagine the fly?
In The Oil Jar (1909) a crotchety old olive farmer, Don Lollò Zirafa, who sues everyone for a trifle, has been blessed with an amazing crop. He orders a huge, brand new jar for the oil, but has nowhere to put it except in the grape-pressing shed. But alas, the beautiful jar gets broken, and the hired hands are afraid of getting blamed, so they go directly to Zirafa. But they tell him Uncle Dima Licasi can mend it—he has a secret formula. Zirafa, however, insists that Uncle Dima put in rivets, which insults him. After they argue, Uncle Dima does as he's told, but, as he is working inside the jar, when it is finished, he realizes he is trapped inside!. This one is quite funny!
Mrs. Frola and Mr. Ponza, Her Son-in-Law (1917) is a rather bizarre, avant-garde story about these two people, one of whom is crazy, but nobody knows which. Mrs. Frola believes her daughter is alive and well, but her husband, Mr. Ponza is so possessed in love that he will not let her out. It is OK with Mrs. Frola—they pass a basket through the window with notes to each other. Mr. Ponza keeps a nice apartment for Mrs. Frola and they get along amicably, although she thinks he is a bit crazy.
Mr. Ponza, however insists it is Mrs. Frola who is the nutty one, and he and his second wife humor her. The fact is that his first wife, her daughter, is actually dead, at least according to him. But who is telling the truth? No one really knows. . .
These five stories, plus six more make up this interesting and unusual collection. If you like stories that challenge, or are experimental in style, do give these a try. They won't disappoint.
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