cover image The Monkey's Wrench

The Monkey's Wrench

Primo Levi. Summit Books, $15.45 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-671-62214-5

In his second novel, Levi abandons the painful subject of the Holocaust and World War II with mixed results. His previous works, such as the memoirs Survival in Auschwitz and Moments of Reprieve, reveal his talent for careful, detailed storytelling and consciously artless dialogue, and this is a somewhat contrived celebration of that craft through the narrator's conversations with Faussone, an itinerant steelworker. Readers may find the technical minutiae on steel-rigging and paint chemistry (like Levi, the narrator is a paint chemist turned writer) less than compelling. But the novel also glistens with inspiring reflections on the disparate yet similar joys of mental and physical labor (the rigging of words vs. steel or molecules), and the relationship between storyteller/writer and listener/reader. Faussone passionately describes a truss tower-in-progress (""It was like seeing a baby grow'') and a finished crane (``It seemed to walk in the sky, smooth as silk, I felt like they'd made me a duke'') and offers his tales to the narrator (``You can work on it, grind it, hone it, deburr it, hammer it into shape, and you'll have a story''). The narrator similarly finds that ``loving your work . . . represents the best, most concrete approximation of happiness on earth'' but cautions that ``paper is too tolerant a material. You can write any old absurdity on it, and it never complains.'' (October