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In "The Flash," one of the short fictions collected in Numbers in the Dark, the narrator steps into the street in the middle of a crowd and suddenly discovers that "I understood nothing...I didn't understand the reasons for things or for people, it was all senseless, absurd. And I started to laugh." Everyday reality reasserts itself, but the narrator finds himself longing for another visitation, to once again "grasp that other knowledge, found and lost in an instant." His experience parallels the effect Italo Calvino's fiction can have on the reader: without warning other meanings, other forces, are revealed under the surface of our world.
In such distinctive works as The Baron in the Trees, Invisible Cities, and The Castle of Crossed Destinies, Mr. Calvino unearthed and celebrated the uncanny, the remarkable, the mysterious. Numbers in the Dark gathers a variety of miscellaneous works—fables, short stories, dramatic monologues, written between 1943, when Calvino was l9, and 1984. (Mr. Calvino died in 1985.) One of the surprises of the collection is that Mr. Calvino's distinctive style (droll, straightforward, exact in its descriptions) developed very early. Another is that much of his earliest work was overtly political, albeit a politics cloaked in fables.
Some of the pieces read like works dashed off and never picked up again (indeed, "The Queen's Necklace" is composed of the first pages of a novel Mr. Calvino began in the 1950s and put aside). Several of the short stories read like early versions of ideas Mr. Calvino would return to in his later, famous works of fiction. The pleasures here are the pleasures to be found in his 17 other volumes: an encounter with a profoundly original, humane, playful imagination, looking at the world with a fresh eye, inviting us to join him in a search for that nourishing "other knowledge" that lies somewhere just under the surface of the mundane world. Numbers in the Dark is a consistently entertaining and moving collection and a necessary addition to any Calvino admirer's shelf.