I am so happy to know Calvino and can't believe I'm just now getting around to him, but better late than never.
I got the edition with four sections: Riviera Stories, Wartime Stories, Postwar Stories,
and Stories of Love and Loneliness.
Twenty-eight stories total, most written 1945-1949, some in the 1950s, and with only a couple of exceptions I love them all.
From what I've read of his biography he's a fascinating person as well as a brilliant short story writer, and a brilliant short story, in my opinion, is one that creates a world from an incident, or what feels like a world. I prefer novels because I want the experience of place, of entering and exploring the story realm. I want time to get to know the characters and lose myself in their world. Calvino made me imagine a world to be explored beyond each incident, and what he revealed within a few pages was enough to make me feel I'd entered it.
The book blurb says he blends "reality and illusion with elegance and precision," and I agree. There's a fairy tale quality, and the sense of each principal character being on a quest. The simplest or most common of endeavors becomes a metaphor for how meaning is made, usually in the process of loving, whether it's love of a pastime or idea or person or perversion or your own self. Whatever the object of affection, if you stick with it long enough, difficulties will arise -- conflicting perspectives, thwarted potential, misguided intent.
By turns the proceedings are funny, touching, creepy, stark, dreamy, hopeful, brutal. Some incidents have happy endings, some don't, some remain unresolved, but almost all make for satisfying reading.
I wish I read Italian. It's such a beautiful language. I don't know how the English translation compares, but it suited me and my imagination. I can't resist including a few tempting passages (each from a different story and none is a spoiler, at least not as I read it). The first I read at random upon opening the book the first time, and it was enough to make me want to know what the heck was going on and why and where.
--- Maria-nunziata went up to the sink. Then she saw the surprise. On every plate she had left to dry there was a crouching frog, a snake was coiled up inside a saucepan, there was a soup bowl full of lizards, and slimy snails were making iridescent streaks all over the glasses. In a basin full of water swam the lonely old goldfish. Maria-nunziata stepped back, but between her feet she saw a great big toad.
--- When Baby got to Tuscan Mary's and opened his shirt, he found his whole chest covered with a strange sticky paste. And they stayed till morning, he and she, lying on the bed, licking and picking at each other till they had finished the last crumb of cake and blob of cream.
--- "Don't you ever get tired of reading?" she asked. "You could hardly be called good company! Don't you know that, with women, you're supposed to make conversation?" she added; her half smile was perhaps meant to be ironic, though to Amedeo, who at that moment would have paid anything rather than give up his novel, it seemed downright threatening.
--- The naked man had lost hope now; he would never be able to return to the earth's surface;he would never leave the bottom of this shaft, and he would go mad there drinking blood and eating human flesh, without ever being able to die. Up there, against the sky, there were good angels with ropes, and bad angels with grenades and rifles, and a big old man with a white beard who waved his arms but could not save him.
--- The signora thought of that hour as seen from the land, the polite afternoons, the destiny of unassuming correctness and respectful joys she had thought was guaranteed her and of the contemptible incongruity that had occurred to contradict it, like the chastisement for a sin not committed. Not committed? But that abandonment of hers in bathing, that desire to swim all alone, that joy in her own body in the two-piece suit recklessly chosen; weren't these perhaps signs of a flight begun some time past, the defiance of an inclination to sin, the progressive stages of a mad race toward this state of nakedness. . .