A revolution is under way at a once sleepy New England bank. 45-year-old Frances Fitzgibbons has gone from sweet-tempered loan officer to insatiable force of nature almost overnight. Suddenly she’s brazenly seducing a high-schooler, taking over her boss’s office, firing anyone who crosses her, inspiring populist fervour, and publicly announcing plans to crush her local rivals en route to dominating the state’s entire banking industry. The terrifying new order instituted by Frankie and her offbeat goon squad (led by her devoted hairdresser and including her own son-in-law) is an awesome spectacle to behold.
‘The Dry Heart’ begins and ends with the matter-of-fact pronouncement: ‘I shot him between the eyes.’ As the tale a plunge into the chilly waters of loneliness, desperation, and revenge proceeds, the narrator’s murder of her flighty husband takes on a certain logical inevitability. Stripped of any preciousness or sentimentality, Natalia Ginzburg’s writing here is white-hot, tempered by rage. She transforms the unhappy tale of an ordinary dull marriage into a rich psychological thriller that seems to beg the question: why don’t more wives kill their husbands?
Lou is a shy and diligent librarian at the local Heritage Institute. She works monotonous and dusty hours long into the night but she has found nothing – and no one – to go home to. She has resigned herself to passionless sex on her desk with the Director of the Institute. When she is summoned to a remote island to inventory the estate of Colonel Cary, she takes it as an opportunity to get out of the city, hoping for a industrious summer of cataloguing. Colonel Cary left many possessions behind, but she didn’t expect the bear. She soon begins to anticipate the bear’s needs for food and company. But as summer blossoms across the island and Lou shakes off the city, she realises the bear might satisfy some needs of her own.
‘The Coming Bad Days’ is a penetrating interior portrait of feminine negation and cruelty. After leaving the man with whom she’d been living, an unnamed protagonist in an unnamed university city is working unspectacularly on the poet Paul Celan. The abiding feeling in the city is one of paranoia; the weather has been deteriorating and outside her office window she can hear police helicopters circling, looking for the women who have been disappearing. She is in self-imposed exile, hoping to find dignity in her loneliness. But when she meets Clara – a woman who is exactly her opposite – her plans begin to unravel.
Those who remember Mrs. Fisher’s virtuoso performances in her witty cook-books must enlarge their frame of reference – the author’s skill is extended to an appreciation of a town and tempo which is a rare treat. The timeless beauty of Aix de Provence, delicately and incisively perceived, is so fused with the author’s own fluctuating and most feminine sensibilities that the reader finds himself absorbed in an inner life of memory, a conscious growth of understanding. During her two sojourns in Aix de Provence with her two young daughters, the author intuits, observes the sights, sounds and humanity of the ‘town’. The pure sensate joy of perceiving the many qualities of light, the texture of aging stone, the lyric beauty of the fountains, is brilliantly communicated.