Given that the novel evolved out of medieval story cycles such as Boccaccio's Decameron and The Heptameron by Margaret, Queen of Navarre, it should be no surprise that linked story collections are back in fashion. The only question is why it took so long.
Indeed, the overlapping story collection seems preternaturally designed for the modern reader. Short enough to cater to our shorter attention span, but still possessing the pleasures of narrative, it features the best of both worlds.
And yet with the new freedoms of this old form comes renewed responsibility. Raised on a diet of chronological stories, most readers will need a bit more hand-holding - be it thematically or by tone or by details and locations - to teach them to read this kind of book. Even Boccaccio interrupted his narrative on occasion to explain to readers what exactly it was he was writing.
As a result, Giovanna's 86 Circles is best read as a montage of portraits - a poet's stepping stone into fiction. Quick glimpses of Rust Belt Pennsylvania accrete into a portrait of a time, a region, and a group of Italian-American women whose ties to the old world are loosening.
| Giovanna's 86 Circles |
and Other Stories
By Paola Corso
University of Wisconsin Press
$21.95, 144 pages
flash fiction and prose poetry
Taught by Paola Corso
9am-4pm Sat, Oct 8
Registration deadline: Sep 30
513 S. Presa
As the title suggests, there is a kind of frisson to the book raised by overlapping. So a story about a woman going to a thrift store and discovering her mother's clothes runs right into another story about a young girl learning to appreciate her grandmother's knitting. Two other tales share the thematic terrain of adult life as seen through the eyes of a child. Although a narrative never fully develops, a sort of gallery of snapshots does, which is interesting given that Corso's volume of poetry included photographs by George Thomas Mendel.
But here it is Corso's prose that does the time-lapse photography. With her swift and gritty sentences, she conjures a world where houses were painted gray since the mill soot would turn them that color anyway, where Jell-O stood for dessert, and pineapples salad. It was a humble, if pinched, society, down on their luck but at least rich in tradition. Corso honors that fact here, and then some. Now if she would only remember to put these testimonial snapshots into motion. •