Many accomplished writers begin with short stories and evolve into novels, and a few, like the great Alice Munro, master the form and stay with it. Other novelists return to the shorter form, again and again, because when written well, it is the essence of storytelling. This is how it all began - oral storytelling and poetry translated ultimately from the cave wall to the page.
Novelist Francesca Marciano has gone backwards, publishing this month her first story collection, following three good novels and bringing the skill of the novelist to nine distinct contemporary tales.
I first discovered this talented writer with RULES OF THE WILD, which takes place in Africa and transports the reader not only to the landscape but to the romance of wildlife. As a woman who has lived in many places, and currently resides in Rome, Marciano is especially adept at evoking a sense of place not only as background but as the framework for the motivations and longings of residents.
Because she is also an actress and screenwriter, her dialogue is especially rich and she quickly draws the reader in.
From India to Greece to Venice, the diverse characters of THE OTHER LANGUAGE explore different facets of their lives - ego and expertise, the passion to rediscover old loves, the dissolution of a marriage, the false claims we make on each other. The writing is clear and descriptive, never flowery or sappy. We come to know the characters quickly and well and you might recognize some of them, or discover yourself.
In India, for example, a wife seeks a richer identity by draping herself in indigenous clothing like the dupatta, the scarf women wrap around their shoulders, and the distinctive sandals called chappals, clearly emblematic of her desire for a richer identity, while her husband finds her foolish, trapped as he is in writers' block and discontent.
He walked some more, all the way to the Shiva shrine at the end of the ghat. He had had no useful thoughts about the story he was trying to crack. India wasn't a place conductive to creativity, he decided, it occupied too much space with all its unanswerable questions.
THE OTHER LANGUAGE is the kind of story collection best read all at once - the diversity of character and place makes the sum of the parts a larger whole, and in this, as good as a novel told through places and faces. Or, read one at a time when you need a quick fix of fiction.