cover image A Devil Comes to Town

A Devil Comes to Town

Paolo Maurensig, trans. from Italian by Anne Milano Appel. World Editions, $14.99 trade paper (120p) ISBN 978-1-64286-013-9

In Maurensig’s crafty publishing fable, a Mephistophelean figure sows discord in a community of scribblers. A renowned novelist receives an unsigned manuscript about a certain Father Cornelius, the vicar of a small Swiss community, Dichtersruhe, which is in the midst of “an episode of collective madness.” The insular town is remarkable because “there was no other place in the world with such a high number of would-be writers.” The townspeople are content with their modest literary ambitions until a flashy Lucerne publisher arrives and offers a cash prize for the region’s best manuscript. Dichtersruhe’s citizens are overcome by vainglory and envy (as well as a rabies epidemic). These ominous signs convince Father Cornelius that the out-of-towner is the devil himself, exploiting this “pond teeming with disillusioned fish.” Maurenig (Theory of Shadows) skillfully handles the tale’s mysteries and ambiguities: has Father Cornelius really spotted the devil, or is he an unreliable narrator in thrall to his own infernal, Faust-inspired fictions? And is the widespread urge to write, to “indelibly engrave ourselves on the metaphysical plate of the universe,” demonic or divine? This nested narrative is an entertaining exploration of the manifold powers—creative, confessional, corrupting—of fiction.[em] (May) [/em]