cover image Lies of the Night

Lies of the Night

Gesualdo Bufalino. Atheneum Books, $18.95 (163pp) ISBN 978-0-689-12124-1

The elegance and intricacy that distinguished Bufalino's The Plague-Sower quicken here in a plot full of wit and wile. Condemned to die for treason, four swashbucklers spend the night before their execution contemplating a last-minute offer of pardon: if any of them anonymously identifies their leader, all four will be spared. As they consider, they enact a desperate Decameron : each takes a turn recounting a story, speaking ``of what, both for his own sake as for others', may best give understanding of the lie about himself.'' As each storyteller unburdens himself the others discuss his offering, analyzing which elements are imagined, which are true and which are true only emotionally. Fiction thus becomes a process of masking and of unmasking. The narratives themselves are entertaining, often drolly and implicitly commenting on literary traditions. But what is spellbinding is the manner in which Bufalino's conclusion expands his ploy of deception/revelation to ensnare the reader. Although the translation lacks precision, it retains enough of Bufalino's polish to demonstrate why the novel won Italy's Strega prize in 1988. (Apr.)