Two years ago (ish), I read If On a Winter's Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino, and it quickly became one of my favorite books. (See the post here). When I picked up Difficult Loves, I expected something strange and postmodern, but instead was delighted to read a beautiful short story collection about love and communication. There are 13 Difficult Loves in this collection (and two Difficult Life). The titles are all consistent ("The Adventure of a Clerk, the Adventure of a Wife, the Adventure of a Skier, etc.) and the stories are all about the struggles of love.
Calvino's writing is just so delicious. You feel fully wrapped up in the lives and desires of his characters. In a passage from the Adventure of a Reader (this is a book blog, after all....), he writes:
Weighing them in his hand, thick, closely printed, squat, he would consider with some apprehension the number of pages, the length of the chapters, then venture into them, a bit reluctant at the beginning, without any desire to perform the initial chore of remembering the names, catching the drift of the story; then he would entrust himself to it, running along the lines, crossing the grid of the uniform page, and beyond the leaden print the flame and fire of the battlefield appeared, the cannonball that, whistling through the sky, fell at the feet of Prince Andrei, and the shop filled with engraving and statues where Frédéric Moreau, his heart in his mouth, was to meet the Arnoux family. (100)
That was one sentence! And the reader gets so much about this reader, and the story of the book he's reading, and his emotional journey. The rest of the story delves into the reader's relationship with another beach goer (she distracts him from reading), and it was wonderful. The stories feel like a true collection; the parallel structure of the titles helped focus on the protagonist and the heart of the story. Most stories take place in the late 40s, as Italy recovers from World War II. As one reviewer writes, "Calvino began to break from realism for the richer depths of philosophy, myth and fantasy. These stores are all similarly titled "Adventure of a...", and explore similar ideas, the brief moments of universal comprehension and ignorance arising from everyday life."
A worthwhile collection. (Although the penultimate stories on ants creeped me out).