Paola Corso's Giovanna's 86 Circles : And Other Stories (Wi Library Amer Fiction) is worth reading for the local interest alone, but the universality of the stories will make the book appeal to general readers.
This collection of stories has a magical quality that derives from the use of fables, dreams, and legends within each story to draw the reader into the interior symbolic world of the characters. Meanwhile the world of these stories seems very familiar because the fictionalized references to actual people, places, and events bring to life the experience of living in a river town in Southwest Pennsylvania.
"The Drying Corner" is clearly set in Tarentum, yet it is a timeless Tarentum. In that story Lorna's mother connects the possibility that DiGirolamo's fruit store will close with the report that "the new mall off the freeway is bigger than all of downstreet." This line started me speculating what local mall she referenced. Did she mean a strip mall such as the Highlands Mall or the Heights Plaza? Either of those malls would qualify as "bigger than all of downstreet" but they are geographically closer to Freeport Road than to the freeway. Did she mean the Giant Eagle across the bridge? Or perhaps did she mean the new Galleria at Pittsburgh Mills that just opened in 2005 -- long after the actual DiGirolamo's fruit store closed? In this fictionalized and timeless Tarentum the residents anticipate a future when all that will be left are doctor's offices and funeral homes, a future that still has not come to pass in 2005, and may never be.
My speculation about when the narrated events are happening, or the characters' speculation about when the feared futures will come to pass, is ultimately irrelevant to this story in which Lorna's grandmother Nonna teaches her an important lesson about relishing the present. Lorna sees her town dying and wants to do something to preserve it, yet learns a simple and timeless truth that is foreshadowed in her dream of her grandmother swimming as a young woman, and that is ultimately stated plainly by Nonna: "We've got the best part right here. And you thought it was done for."
I don't give much credit to John Freeman's complaints that readers need more assistance in finding their way through a collection of short stories. Collections of short stories reflect the very discontinuities modern people face each day, yet such collections are also ideal for people who must fit their reading in between numerous obligations and interruptions.
The fact that the magical world in which these stories take place leaves questions unanswered and connections unmade is no flaw, but rather a reflection of the parabolic nature of these stories that leave important personal work for the reader. These stories leave questions hanging about how the reader will approach her or his own life, losses, hopes, and fears. The reader will benefit from allowing these stories to nag at his or her consciousness until the answers and connections come from within.
Other reviews of the same book:
- Chelsea Kellner in the Valley News Dispatch, "Local authors defy stereotype"
- John Freeman in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "Not all the dots connect in stories by Tarentum native"