cover image When the Mask Slips

When the Mask Slips

Mark Ciabattari. Bordighera, $18 trade paper (112p) ISBN 978-1-59954-186-0

Ciabattari’s droll linked collection (after The Literal Truth) continues the big-city odyssey of everyman Rizzoli. A history professor in New York City, Rizzoli is not exactly hapless, but he’s the kind of guy whom strangers un-self-consciously approach to share their life stories, personal problems, or wacky conspiracy theories. Many of the episodes have a Kafkaesque flavor, like “The Calvino Puzzle,” in which the letters of a book escape from the pages and litter the floor. Meanwhile, “Here in Hopes of Filling Space” finds Rizzoli full of holes and missing his belly button, and the title story sees Rizzoli’s shadow unceremoniously desert him. Standing by his side for many adventures is faithful ladylove Phoenicia, who dispenses the clear-eyed wisdom and sharp barbs of a sitcom spouse. There’s not much of an arc to the goings-on—in one of the stories set in California, Rizzoli teaches history at the Santa Croce Prison Farm—but the randomness underscores the consoling idea that life itself, especially city life, is random and that surprises occur around every corner. Throughout, Ciabattari brings a deadpan charm to the absurd accounts. Once again, this thoughtful author demonstrates an admirable compassion for human frailty. (Oct.)