Genni Gunn’s Solitaria opens in dramatic style: workers restoring a dilapidated Italian villa discover a body on the site. It turns out to be a male murder victim and his name is Vito Santoro. He has been dead for some 50 years.
But this is not a crime novel — it’s a family history. And the decaying villa is a metaphor for the Santoro family:
“And family, too, can become the rubble around you, the millstones and boulders, the pebbles and stones – a virtual quarry impeding your every step.”
Thanks to the help of the television show Chi l’Ha Visto?, which reports on unsolved crimes, the victim’s family — an assorted collection of brothers and sisters who live in Italy, Australia and Canada — is tracked down. Each of them thought Vito, the eldest sibling, had emigrated to Argentina — and Piera, the eldest sister, has correspondence from him to prove it.
Trevor, our short story expert, has completed reading the third and final collection, Zsuzsi Gartner’s Better Living Through Plastic Explosives. Trevor’s full review is here — this is his opening paragraph:
Last year I had some problems with Giller shortlisted story collection This Cake Is for the Party, by Sarah Selecky (my review here). In the acknowledgments page of this year’s third story collection, Better Living Through Plastic Explosives (2011), author Zsuzsi Gartner thanks Sarah Selecky for “jetpacks of psychic fuel.” Knowing nothing more about this book or about Gartner’s relationship with (or literary similarities to) Selecky, just that mention made me wary to read this story collection. I can say, with certainty, that Better Living Through Plastic Explosives is much better than This Cake Is for the Party. The writing here is spontaneous and interesting, if not always (or even mostly) on target. Gartner eschews both formal and substantive realism (one story ends with a page-long string of “huh”; a marmot has a point of view; a man digresses to adolescence) as she pokes and prods contemporary North America, while Selecky’s collection was rather conventional and drab and rote. All of that is not to say that I think Better Living Through Plastic Explosives to be a good short story collection. Cheers to Gartner for stripping whatever constraints she felt within realism and cheers to her for making each sentence its own, but the end result is a scatter-shot style that says little and that is often quite unfun even as it basks in its freedom.