Each of the narrators of these two novellas of Italian family life is a studious young woman in her 20s whose relationship to her mother carries important weight. In the first tale it is affectionate, in the second harshly judgmental. Valentino, the good-looking, lazy brother on whom the penurious family pins its hopes, subsidizing his medical education, shocks everyone by marrying a wealthy older woman. Maddalena, ugly but kindly, bears his children, conducts her entrepreneurial affairs as a landowner and helps the family, while Valentino pursues his independent life as wastrel and playboy. Valentino alienates his benefactors, and the family loyalties realign themselves in astonishing ways. The mother in Sagittariusthe name of the gallery she hopes to launchis anatomized in all her vanity and folly. Hungry for excitement, she ignores the family's wants and falls in with the fascinatingly seedy woman Scilla, an ``artist'' who feeds her illusions. Together they cook up a scheme that leads to disaster. In both tales character molds the action with a compelling inevitability that marks Ginzburg as one of Italy's master storytellers. (April)
In spare, unrelenting prose, these two novellasboth set in post-war Italy, one narrated by the hero's young sister, the other by the heroine's cynical daughterexplore the dissolution of dreams. Bright, handsome Valentino, destined to become a ``man of consequence,'' his family believes, marries an older, ugly, but also very wealthy woman and immediately lapses into idleness and, ultimately, decadence. Sagittarius is the pipe-dream of a widow who moves to the city with grandiose plans of opening an art gallery. She is befriended by a scheming eccentric, and her dreams, too, soon evaporate. Highly recommended. Marcia G. Fuchs, Guilford Free Lib., Ct.