Next up for review is another collection of short stories on the 2014 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize long list. This time we head to Milan in Italy for the seedier side of Naples. And a short review for a short collection of short stories.
Andrej Longo’s collection is (of course) ten short stories each loosely based on one of the ten commandments. The first being “I am the Lord thy God, thou shalt have no other Gods before me”, is where we first meet the “Mafia” boss Giggino Mezzanotte and understand the influence he has over the City:
And from out of the dark comes Giggino Mezzanotte. All dressed up and smiling away. With his polished shoes and his jacket thrown over his arm. Along with two half-naked women, and bodyguards like mountains.
He puts his hand on my elbow, calm as anything.
‘Everything OK, son?’ he says.
The guy with the mirrored glasses puts his knife in his pocket. His two friends do the same. Without a word they go back inside the club.
“Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain” is the story of a failed tenor singer who let the high and fast life take control and his cocaine habits forced him to cross the bosses. Of course there are dramatic consequences. “remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” covers the lonely life of a woman who only sees her partner on Tuesday’s, due to his long working hours. “Honour thy father and thy mother” is a heart wrenching tale of the youngest son dealing with an invalid parent.
“Thou shalt not kill” is a father’s lament over the damaged relationship he has with his young seven year old son:
I don’t know how much a seven-year-old really understands. Je nodded and gave me a big hug. And as he was hugging me, with his heart beating fast inside his chest, I could feel the cold gun pressing into my thighs, and I realise I couldn’t do anything more for him. My one hope was that he never became like me. My only hope.
“Thou shalt not commit adultery” is a young girls horrific tale of her relationship with her father, “Thou shalt not steal” a confession by a young boy who can not talk to his friends about a crime he has committed. “Thou shalt not bear false witness” a stolen Mercedes, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife” the story of a young bride to be on the morning of her wedding and finally “”thy shalt not covet anything that is thy neighbour’s” where three young hooligans steal a car and then pay the consequences.
As you can probably gather, the ten stories are interlinked with the seedy side of Milan being the flow throughout. Short, sharp prose that is easy to read, this is a collection that can be read in a single sitting. At 150 pages and with large spacing and short paragraphs this is a brief encounter with Andrej Longo’s work. All of the stories are tight and I like the flow of connections by styling them to come from various angles (parent, child, hoodlum, victim etc.). Personally I don’t think it will be a collection that I’ll recall reading in 12 months time, and one of the usual criticisms I feel for the shorter genre is that I just start to engage with a character and they’re gone, and in this case that happened all too frequently. Overall an enjoyable but light read, nothing that offended me, but a collection I feel won’t make the short list just given the strength of other works this year.