If on a Winter's Night a Traveler...
Italo Calvino opens up his masterpiece in the second person, addressing and engaging the reader in a very direct way; a powerful, uncompromising way: Here you are - the reader; and here I am - the protagonist; the author is somewhere else, as impertinent to the story as is his publisher. It is what it is, and you, the reader, are here with me, sucked into the depths of my mind, where you'll trip over threads that are seemingly random, unrelated and without ends, yet serve a purpose that you may or may not grasp unless you persist until the closing lines fade away as you turn the last page over and walk away, pensive, wondering whether you can make any sense of this work at all.
You are thrust into the story without any regard for your emotional state. Calvino grabs you and drags you through towns, scenes, countries, and minds -- playing a game of marbles with your emotions. Here now, gone on the next page, the stories unfold, hang suspended in the air for a while, then end abruptly while your frustration spirals out of control, only to confirm that the main thread, the second person you is still a part of the story, the only part that brings any lucidity to the seemingly random order of events. But the events are not random, oh no. The stories are calculated; each revealing a bit more about the plot you are a part of, and each advancing the ever-thickening mystery that surrounds Ludmilla. For it she that you desire, and your desire to continue reading for reading's sake alone is only a farce, because from the beginning you wanted to be with her, to partake in reading while sharing a bed together.
Calvino, however, knows no mercy. I should have known by now that his novels are not an easy read. His novels are complicated, extraordinary puzzles that produce more questions than answers. His prose, however, wraps you in silky-smooth sentences that scream comfort while your inner peace drains out of you, leaving a mess of emotions that you, alone, must piece together when the book ends.
When I've read Invisible Cities, I struggled to describe what it was that I was reading. The same rings true here. If on a Winter's Night a Traveler... is impossible to assess. Is it a novel? Is it a compilation of eleven different novels? Is it a plethora of philosophical arguments? Is it a showcase of Calvino's capabilities as a writer? Is it a lecture on society?
It is all of the above! Calvino is a master, a philosopher, a wandering mind, and an exceptional storyteller.
In today's genre-driven market where plots are recycled more often than not, Calvino's work stands as a prime example of an author who can create original plots and stories while maintaining a strange retrospection to stories we have already read. As a reader, I can relate to all of the opening chapters in this book, to the variety of his plots. As a thinker, I'm aware of the subtle messages about the state of our society, which are sprinkled throughout the book. As a writer, I'm humbled.