I wish I had noted where I read about Francesca Marciano's recently published short story collection, The Other Language. I've decided on a new 'rule' for my sidebar of in progress books. Nothing gets added as a current read until I have passed the fifty page mark, and I know I am sufficiently 'into' a story and that I plan on continuing on (all part of my 'digging out from under' and getting control of my reading planning). Maybe this will help alleviate some of the pressure of those piles of books and the (silly) guilt I feel when I set a book aside.
I've read the first story and find that both the writing style and the subject (so far) appeal to me, so I am going to keep going. Either it is up for an award or was simply mentioned somewhere as being an exceptional 2014 book. Whichever the case, I think it is going to be good and I'm glad I came across it. Where was I last spring when it was published?
This is not the first time I have encountered Francesca Marciano's work. In my pre-blogging days I read her novel Cassa Rosa, which I still have good memories of. It is a book I think I might happily reread sometime. I also have The Rules of the Wild on hand and think I might add The End of Manners to my next book order. It always feels good when you click with a book and you discover your reading has taken on a new trajectory, don't you think?
The collection contains nine stories. I'm starting at the beginning with the titular story "The Other Language". It's sort of a slice of life, coming of age tale, slightly melancholic in tone which really resonated with me. Not necessarily the actual events but the emotions the narrator went through--the expectations we have as adolescents and the way life generally takes us in entirely different directions than we want or expect. It was nicely done and she captures that youthful desire--those moments of embarrassment and confusion so well.
For some reason I thought Marciano was American and only living in Italy. I could find no notation of who did the translation, but as it turns out, she was born in Italy, lived in New York City for a decade in the 70s and writes in English. In a PW interview she says "that writing in English frees her—'there are no witnesses if you write in another language'. As for English, she adds, 'I grabbed the language. I wanted it'." I find that fascinating to think about and see bits of the author in the character who tells the first story (reminding myself that you have to be careful about reading the 'personal' into a story).
The story is set in a small Greek in the 1970s. An Italian family, newly bereaved after the death of the wife/mother, has come to have a vacation. It's later revealed that the vacation is to give time for the aunts to remove all (or almost all) trace of the mother without the children there to watch. The children, two girls and an older brother are on the cusp of adolescence. It's the first time the father has had to take care of the children in this manner--away from home and entirely on his own. It's obvious that this is new terrain for them all and they fumble about a bit, but the village with its single street and sandy beaches is just what the children need. The son begins a friendship with a Greek girl who has arrived from Athens, and Emma who tells the story, becomes fascinated with the sons of a very bohemian British family who have taken residence in the town's 'villa'.
While Luca seems to be able to find common ground with the girl from Athens despite not sharing a language, Emma is unable to communicate with these boys she watches from afar. A year later the family returns, as do the other visitors from the previous summer. Much has changed, including the two older children who are beginning to lose that childishness of shape and attitude. The children, the father, all seem to be moving in new and different directions.
"They looked at each other. Emma felt a terrible loneliness overcoming her all at once. She and Luca had been drifting apart all summer to the point of becoming almost estranged. She understood something frightening was happening. Without their mother, there was no center, no focus to hold them together. Pulled by an unknown centrifugal force, they were all breaking away from one another. Nadia, Mirella, the English boy, were only the beginning of this disintegration."
The story is told in the here and now of those summers spent in Greece, but then also many years later from time and distance and experience. It's interesting how those childhood experiences begin to shape us and set us on to paths that may take us so far from where we thought we might end up. For Emma, the encounters she had with these boys, the desire to be able to communicate with them in English is the 'other language' she learns and sends her off in a place she might not have gone had she not had that experience.
* * * * *
I'm a little behind in my New Yorker short story reading, though I really liked Jess Roy's story "The Empties" from the November 3 issue. It's a little disorienting and disturbing and all too plausible, which is really pretty scary. It's set in the not too distant future of "End Times" or "E.T." as people have taken to saying versus "B.E.T." (or Before End Times). The story is told, is written down actually by J. and she captures well that eerie feeling of waiting for the electricity to come back on, but it never does. And the foreboding.
I'm glad my lights are on. And there is heat and a telephone.
You can read the Q&A with the author here, and the story is online here--give it a go! I had not heard of Roy before this story, but he has two collections out and just recently published his first novel, Your Face in Mine. Another new author to keep an eye out for. I am hoping to catch up with my short story reading over the upcoming long weekend and have already embarked on the next story in The Other Language.