A Hatful of Cherries - Review I Bazzett

March 5, 2014

I've only even been aware of Felix Calvino for a month or two, and his 2007 story collection, A HATFUL OF CHERRIES, is the second of his books I've read. (Last week I read his 2013 novella, ALFONSO.) Both books are just so damn good that Calvino is now on my short list of favorite authors.

There are sixteen stories here, most of them very short, characterized by a delicacy and economy of phrasing not often found in writers today. A bit of Hemingway, a touch of Chekhov, and the rest is ... well, Calvino, I suspect, and, taken all together, the effect is simply perfect. His settings range from post-Civil War Spain in the 1930s to modern-day Australia and its Spanish migrant population there. The subjects too are simple and finely wrought. A small boy wishing for a knife of his own ("The pocket knife"). A groom en route to his wedding who goes mysteriously missing ("Detour"). A young couple hopes in vain for a better life, a dream dashed by senseless violence ("Basilio") A courtship by mail based on lies and half-truths which ends badly ("The bride") - or does it? Unattached men searching tentatively for love and new beginnings ("A new place"). A slyly dry sense of humor pervades "The laundry incident" and "Restless hands."

Every one of these stories is honed and polished to perfection, but if I had to pick a favorite - a hard choice - it would probably be the title story, which uses the innocence and budding sexual curiosity of two village boys to tell the story of a hired girl who gets "in trouble," but lets the reader ponder "whodunit." Or maybe the last story, "Unfinished thoughts," about two old women, "once darlings of their village, now wrinkled skin bags holding together bundles of bones and two old brains bent on pain and nostalgic reflection." Lucia has loved Elvira "always," and now Elvira is dying.

What I find most astounding about his work is not that it's so good and so mature; but that English is his THIRD language (after his native Galician and Spanish). Felix Calvino may have come late to this writing thing, but he has obviously been working hard at it, and in the writing of just two slim volumes, it appears he has already mastered it. These are great stories. I will be impatiently awaiting his next book. Bravo, Mr. Calvino!
   TimBazzett | Mar 2, 2014 |