Thursday, March 6, 2014

Review: American Decameron

Take a stroll through the twentieth century courtesy of Mark Dunn and his brilliant short story collection, American Decameron.

Based on Giovanni Boccaccio's The Decameron, Dunn tells a story for every year of the century. Every state is represented, as well as at least one location outside the country.

The author suggests only the first and last stories be read in order, and the rest could be read in any order.

I read the stories in chronological order, and I am glad I did. The stories progressed linguistically and tonally: the formality of the language and story tone evolved with the century, as did subjects, which also were very enjoyable.

On the whole, the stories were successful. Some were steeped in history, others were absolutely original. Many were rooted in fact (I plan to search for clues on the more obscure stories). Not all are stories in the traditional sense, and the imaginative approach to storytelling was revolutionary, entertaining and, at times, completely unexpected. A few of the stories seemed a little contrived and token (1982, I'm looking at you).

More than a few of the stories made me cry. A couple of them required me to compose myself after they were read, particularly the post-war stories. I read the book with Carole, and we called each other to see which stories we had read. ("Have you gotten to 1930?" "Oh, my stars, 1948!")

And for the record, 1948 was one of the most moving stories I've ever read. 1903 was imaginative and touching, 1907 had the most delicious twist. 1916 was profoundly heartwarming, 1954 nearly broke my heart.  1926 actually did break my heart.

I also am slowly making my way through the original Decameron. In fact, I plan to re-read American Decameron while reading the Italian story collection. Then, I'll read American Decameron again and again. It's the kind of collection that gives readers something new at every reading. If you are like me, you'll gorge on the stories for as long as your eyes will stay open, then a little longer after that.

I strongly recommend this book, and I can't wait to find out what you think.

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