“A short story is like a kiss in the dark from a stranger,” Stephen King once wrote. I must admit I wasn’t always a believer in the titillating impact of a short story, but I’m coming around, especially after reading this wonderful collection by Francesca Marciano. “The Other Language” (2014) covers a lot of territory—from an island in Greece to the streets of Paris, around the world to India before coming back to Scotland. Marciano is a native Italian but is truly a citizen of the world, having lived for periods in European capitals, here in New York and New Mexico and in Kenya. She’s naturally nomadic, she tells interviewers. “I like to live out of my comfort zone.”
Marciano gives us richly drawn settings in which to watch her complex characters experience the challenges life has thrown at them. Besides her three earlier novels, she has also done screenwriting and that experience shows in her captivating scenes and easy dialogue. The settings are varied but the stories all involve relationships between men and women, with the focus on a woman. She is not interested in your garden-variety couples but rather she likes to explore interactions between fathers and daughters in the title story or couples who meet coincidently over a lifetime in “Quantum Theory” or a famous rock star and the girl he left behind in “Roman Romance”.
In “Big Island, Small Island” an Italian woman, Stella, visits an old friend she hasn’t seen for fifteen years who’s living on a tiny island off sub-Saharan Africa. With a new religious identity and a child bride, his life is far different than what she had expected from her fun-loving pal.
In “The Presence of Men,” Lara’s renovation of an ancient house in a small village in southern Italy angers the neighbors, but her brother’s appearance with his client, a well-known actor, changes the dynamics of her relationship with the townspeople.
A serious car accident opens “Quantum Theory” and readers cannot be sure how the driver and passenger know one another. Sonia’s car has tumbled down a ravine and rolled over. She and her handsome passenger, a love interest we suspect, escape and walk barefoot through the bush to a hospital hand in hand.
“The Other Language” offers up something refreshing for those who generally stick to novels. These stories are longer than one might expect, richer and more captivating, making it a surprisingly satisfying reading experience.