My pen has ruptured and I’m currently feeling very Bohemian and ink-stained, which is the perfect sentiment in which to read some Calvino, no?
So, I sit down to read the new book by Italo Calvino, and I know that I do this because the opening chapters tell me that I do this. And I get to the end of a fairly gripping first chapter only to be informed that the book has been bound wrong, and that the first chapter simply repeats itself, and also that I am pissed. And so (the book tells me), I head to the book store to rage at them, and to get an un-defective book. Unfortunately, it turns out to be a different book altogether. Fortunately, the first chapter is even more gripping than the other first chapter. Unfortunately again, after the first chapter, the pages are simply blank.
And so it goes that every alternating chapter of If on a winter’s night is the first chapter of a different (albeit just as suspenseful) story, but you never get to read the chapters following because the author died after page 26, or the book is confiscated by airport customs, and you’re wondering to yourself, how long can Calvino keep this up? How many excuses can he find for breaking off and beginning again? And the answer is, for pages!!! For the whole book, in fact. And will I then be left cranky and terribly unsatisfied? Not hardly.
Also what never gets old is being told what I’m doing. This is a fine line to walk, all this second-person-ness. Because when an author is all ‘I, I, I’ then I’m down, because if you say you did, then you did. Or when they’re all, ‘John Doe this and then Jane Doe that,’ who am I to say nay? But it’s when they start ‘…and then you opened the door and were shocked by what you saw,’ well, it’s kind of presumptuous, innit? It’s like that You wouldn’t steal a car, You wouldn’t steal a wallet, Don’t make an illegal copy of this DVD ad that plays at the start of all rented movies now, which, how do you know I wouldn’t steal a car, DVD ad? All that to say that Calvino pulls it off with aplomb, but YOU, budding author, cannot. It will be the suck, and I will be scathing. Stick to telling me what Bill and Ted are up to, and we’ll have no bones to pick.
Also, in addition to being one of those tricky pieces that succeeds, all this bizarre storytelling allows Calvino to do this thing that I love where ‘several paragraphs ensue’ that reveal to you (meaning me, the Reader) names and dates that aren’t important but that give you (me again) a distinct sense of unease, and so without having to wade through all these names and dates (which Vishnu knows I hate), I’m left feeling uneasy. Everybody wins!!!
Clearly I have found a new love, and unlike all my new loves that are promising young authors, Calvino is an established old author. I will be hieing me to a book-rentery post haste to suck me up some more.