Giovanna's 86 Circles and Other Stories

Paola Corso, Author
Paola Corso, Author University of Wisconsin Press $21.95 (138p) ISBN 978-0-299-21280-3
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The title story of this compact collection ends with the fourth-grade narrator finding an ""earthquake""-sized epiphany in a classmate's kiss (""The answer was smack in middle of Giovanna's eighty-sixth circle and Marty's lips.""), a conclusion representative of the book's fascination with quotidian wonders: each story features a series of tightly-wound concentric parables pointing to a broader moment of dizzying insight. Although Corso's young-hearted characters (each story features a sagely opaque narrator) are forgettable, their metaphorical visions, like Corso's prose, are memorable and entrancing. Whether Corso penetrates the heart of Italian-American experience, however, is less clear. In ""Raw Egg in Beer,"" for example, when the Valley Daily Gazette's only Catholic reporter is sent to interview the town's devoutly Catholic mayor (who has announced that he has but one day to live), Corso melds rooster-and-egg, black-and-white and hatching-and-flying comparisons into anecdotes that maintain narrative coherence, but do little to de-mythologize ethnic experience. Offered a raw egg in beer, the narrator notes, ""The thought of gulping one of those down clots my throat the way watching my mother swallow raw clams on the half shell does."" Although these stories may not always illuminate Italian-American lore, they remain powerful in the moment thanks to the imagery's dream-like density.
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