Leonardo Sciascia's novella (or long story) called A Simple Story, reissued by Hesperus Press in a new translation by Howard Curtis, begins with a one-two punch of sardonic observation and ends with irony just as sardonic. As the story opens, police in a small Sicilian town receive a phone call on the eve of a festival honoring St. Joseph the carpenter,
"who seemed to have inspired the bonfires of old furniture which were lit in the working-class neighborhoods almost as a promise to the few carpenters still in business that there would be no lack of work for them. The offices were almost deserted, even more so than on other evenings at that hour, but they were still lit, the way the offices of the police were usually kept lit in the evening and during the night, by tacit agreement, to give the townspeople the impression that the police were ever alert to the safety of the public."Good god, an opening like that snaps the reader to attention. In such a world of deception, one must — readers included — be ready for anything, and the mental alertness that this demands is exhilarating. Sciascia's world is not one in which the police must solve a mystery, but rather one in which everything is a mystery.
Sciascia's skeptical wit also appeals, as perhaps all skeptical wit does, to the intellect, and I like this example especially:
"But as the commissioner's attitude had annoyed him, and as he was almost entirely devoid of what is usually called esprit de corps — which meant regarding the body to which he belonged as the most important thing of all, considering it infallible, or, if it was not infallible, untouchable, overwhelmingly right, especially when it was wrong — he had a mischievous idea."Oh, man, that's what I want to be when I grow up.
© Peter Rozovsky 2010