Difficult Loves; Smog; A Plunge into Real Estate
Margaret McGrath was a research librarian at St. Michael's College, University of Toronto.
This collection of earlier short works of the justly acclaimed Italo Calvino is divided into three parts, the first, eleven brief amorous “adventures” of the cover title, dating from the fifties. The protagonists vary — here a petty crook, there a prosperous matron — and their problems as well, but the treatment is unfailingly wry and delicate. Even the briefest are never trivial, and some display great intricacy.
A short story, “Smog,” is the middle portion of the collection, and the most complex. A writer, fleeing some nameless unsettling unhappiness, takes a new job in a new city as managing editor of a magazine devoted to fighting atmospheric pollution. His own interior gloom is paralleled by the smog and dust he sees everywhere. Absurdities are commonplace. The head of the foundation that produces the magazine is also head of a firm that pollutes. In desperation the writer turns from his murky confusion to a fantasy of a giant pastoral laundry. The story is densely loaded with intertwining threads, in contrast with most of the first section.
“A Plunge into Real Estate” is the last and longest portion. The central figure here is an ineffectual son of an established bourgeois family that is being impoverished by property taxes. Dissatisfied with academic life, he starts seeing himself as a successful builder and entrepreneur. Calvino provides no real villains for his slow downfalls — just mediocre but deceptively contradictory associates. Baffled, the poor man ends diminished.
Calvino inhabits the interiors of his ordinary people more than comfortably. With infinite concern he illuminates their mental and emotional problems so deftly that the mundane ceases to be so.