Monday, 24 August 2009

"Fists" by Pietro Grossi

Fists is actually the title of three short stories which make up this book, and concerns a rather unusual relationship between two young fighters. The second revolves around horses, and the third around a young man who believes he is a monkey. They are well written, and each is strikingly different from each other. On this occasion I decided that rather than writing a review, I would conduct an on-line interview with the author, Pietro Grossi.

Pursewarden: Which writers have most influenced you from (1) Italian fiction and (2) English language fiction?

PG: It is difficult to say but, out of all of them, probably the two Italian fiction writers I most admire are Italo Svevo, La Coscienza di Zeno above all, and Pirandello. One struck me for his apparent simplicity, the other for his freedom, both for their endless wit. Again it is very hard to cut a bunch of books and authors out of hundreds, but if I have to draw a line I have to admit that the literature that has most influenced my writing, at least for the moment, is North American 20th century literature, all the way from Melville to Philip Roth. The author who has taught me the most about writing – I mean methods and tricks and how and where – is Hemingway.

Pursewarden: There is a strong sense of place in all of the stories. The horse story, for example, reminded me of the Abruzzo trilogy while the last story reminded me of the Garden of the Finzi-Contini. Is this something you deliberately aim for in your writing?

PG: I never thought about the Abruzzo trilogy but yes, definitely I recognized from the first moment there was something in Monkey that reminded me about Il giardino dei Finzi-Contini. Mostly the scene in which Nico remembers the first time he saw Piero's sister: the image of that girl reading in the garden could have definitely been cut out of some scene in Bassani's book. It's funny: I read Il giardino dei Finzi-Contini only once, when I was twelve: I guess luckily good things just stick with you.

Pursewarden: Why do you write short stories? What is about the form that attracts you?
Have you ever tried writing a full-length novel? What are the different challenges for a writer of each form?

PG: I started to write short stories because I wasn't able to write novels.

I kept beginning novels that I was never able to end, so at a certain point I just tried to write as it came to me, without worrying about how long it was and what was going on. So came ‘Boxing’. When Pugni was published and people started saying that I was a great short-story writer I kept on looking at those ten or twelve unfinished novels on my shelf and felt pretty ridiculous. The book after Pugni is a single longer story, though I don't really think you can call it a novel yet.

Some time or another I swear I'll get there.

Pursewarden: The last story is left deliberately unresolved. What was your intention here?

PG: I don't think I had any great intentions when I began the story. I actually never have great intentions when I begin a story. Or, at least, all the best stories I have written came out decently because I didn't have any great intentions. Anyway, when I began to consider Monkey and think about it I realized that it was a completely different story from the other two. The first two stories have a sharp beginning and a sharp end and a whole clear dynamic that leads from one point to another.

Monkey, I thought, worked in a different way. It was Cortàzar I think who once said that the relation there is between a novel and a short story is the same that there is between a feature film and photography.

I don't think this is true for every short story, but for a lot of them yes: Hemingway and Salinger and Carver for example work exactly in this way. The first two stories in Fists, in this sense, are more like very short novels, while Monkey doesn't really want to tell a story: Monkey just wants to take a picture of a small situation, a situation anyway that probably hides much deeper matters.

Monkey at first was pretty different and looked more like the beginning of a novel – which probably would have become another of my unended novels – then I realized that it was something different, not as clear and resolved but much sharper.

So, there you have it, the first author interview on this blog, but surely not the last. Fists is published by Pushkin Press under ISBN 978-1-906548-07-0

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