A man for all seasons

Marcovaldo, or the Seasons in the City

Poor Marcovaldo, out of his depth as always. A humble everyman who struggles to make ends meet and divert if not defuse the anger of his manager, his minor mishaps and even smaller triumphs are charted in this collection of short stories. Each takes place in one of the four seasons over what might be several years, each a in Marcovaldo's undramatic drama. And loveable Marcovaldo, with his empathy for everything that rarely translates into a useful discourse with anyone, leads the reader by the hand and heart through his world.

Calvino uses Marcovaldo's peasantry as a brush to daub the countryside on the city where Marcovaldo is unwittingly trapped. Marcovaldo's naïvety ridicules these crazy city folk---disease scares, consumerism, the abandonment of streets in August---yet Calvino never portrays the alternatives as some saccharine Arcady. Marcovaldo becomes a force of nature, timeless and ageless like the creation myth or Charlie Brown; as he passes through the seasons, these could be any seasons, any years. When Marcovaldo fools about in the snow, he is careering and japing through every snow flurry there ever was: though there are the occasional mentions of cars in the English translation, these are almost always inert and lifeless, scenery that does not detract from the story's universality.

This trick of all-encompassment leads to some aimless stories. For every couple of lovely tales---the infected rabbit, or the out-of-control office plants---there is a throwaway one that reveals little while being neither gripping nor particularly heartwarming. Sometimes, apart from the sheer joy of the meandering words and description, it's never clear whether there's a point to the story. But, on one level, who cares? Get off that tram; reclaim the rooftops; gather in the streets; head away from here. And wherever you end up: follow Marcovaldo. He knows where he's going, though he may not know that he knows.