Monday, April 14, 2014

The Other Language by Francesca Marciano

Marciano writes with such naturalness and lack of artifice in each of these carefully composed and engrossing stories of women on the cusp that the reader is convinced the stories are about the author herself. By the fourth intimate portrait we bow to the skill and craft that brought these stories to life. We are privy to an entrancing fragility surrounding each central character as she faces choices and events that will shape her future. Her confusion and uncertainty is something we know very well indeed.

This sophisticated, sexy, adult collection about women not quite at ease in the world brings us to Italy, Africa, New York, and India. We feel no dislocation because we are privy to the intimate thoughts of our protagonist who carries her sensibility with her. The characters range from city to country and beyond but we never lose our vision of the internal.

Marciano’s characters are friends, charming friends, beautiful friends, who have our sympathy. They are vulnerable, capable, and sexual in ways we recognize. And perhaps they are a little deluded. In “An Indian Soirée,‎” “his wife” and “her husband” shrugged off their old lives as easily as old clothes only to discover they’d been together and away from the world too long. Moments of revelation are peeled so carefully, they are manifest in a look, or in a comment exchanged.

In “In the Presence of Men,” the richest and widest of the offerings, we see truths about a youngish divorcée, a small-town matron harboring an undervalued and unmatched skill, and an American filmmaker seemingly so sure of his attractiveness he disregards those that prop him up. When Lara’s high-profile guests leave her new house in the country, we see Lara standing at the kitchen counter eating a non-fat yogurt for dinner as she contemplates a full refrigerator, vegetables neatly stacked by color. The sadness, despair, even desolation that creeps over her afflicts us as well.

Stella and Andrea lie to one another, just a little, when they meet after many years in “Big Island, Small Island.” And Elsa lies to herself, just a little, in “Roman Romance.” But these lies are necessary. These infidelities we recognize but ordinarily cannot articulate, and we forgive them. We would do the same.

A favorite among these bittersweet stories is “Chanel,” in which Caterina and Pascal try on designer clothes in fancy boutiques as a spirit-lifter and self-actualizing experience. Years pass, but the friendship, experience, and the dress (!) linger.

Best of all, in “Quantum Theory,” a man and a woman acknowledge a strong bond between them and do not act on it. The memorable visual in that story, the two reclining on parallel benches but holding hands, will stay with me a very long time.

This magnificent collection is a map to the hidden treasure of the female mind, each story adding to our delight and understanding and wonder. Marciano charts the inner landscape as intimately as a close friend fingering our sore spots, and we accept, rejoice, despair with her discoveries. I know now the tiny but scarring humiliations left from relationships are not mine alone to bear. We made a mess; Marciano made art. Even the cover rocks!

You can buy this book here: Shop Indie Bookstores

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