A Hatful of Cherries is a collection of 16 short stories by Félix Calvino set in Australia and Galicia. I’m always apprehensive when I start reading short stories because I like to know a lot about the characters, and short stories don’t give you a lot of room for character development. Calvino does a great job giving readers an idea of who his characters really are in just a few short pages. While I didn’t get as attached to the characters in these stories in the way I would have had it been a novel, I felt satisfied with the details I was given about each of them.
Take “An Old Sheep,” for example:
As the only woman in the house, mother now set out to establish her authority past the kitchen walls. Though she was an outsider she came from good stock; her mother had presided over her own fourteen sons and daughters, and other relatives of her husband. And she too had been outsider.
Not that mother stated her ambitions. It was more like a low ranting wail directed toward the Lord, asking for patience and strength to endure her Calvary. This infuriated grandfather and she was told to go to hell with her pantomimes and not to interfere with his wine drinking, not to lose sight of the kitchen, the thimble and the washing. But their Holy War was over a piece of ground with rich black soil used by grandfather to grow tobacco, and desperately wanted by mother for her lettuce and tomatoes.
…But I felt sorry for father returning in the evening with the cows. Mother would be waiting in the stables, red-eyed, eager to tell him how unhappy she was because her work was not appreciated. Then she went back to the main house and to her bedroom, washed her face, put on a new scarf and attended to dinner efficiently but sombrely. Later in bed, she gave him a proper and unhurried version of the events, how they had developed and how alone she felt in the world. But these occasional storms were private family affairs and always blew away in the dark, leaving the sky blue again the next day. (pages 39-40)
My favorites stories in A Hatful of Cherries were “Basilio,” a sad story of a man who picks up goods and sells them at market, traveling the dangerous post-Spanish Civil War roads while his wife worries about him at home, and “Sylvia,” which follows two married men, best friends who share a lover. “Detour” focuses on a young man late to his engagement party when he detours to a more scenic route and his car breaks down in the rain. Calvino provides a shocking ending in just a few simple sentences.
He also does a wonderful job making stories about everyday incidents interesting. In “Restless Hands,” he tells the story of a man who quits smoking, and in “The Laundry Incident,” the main character finds his clothes stolen off the line on Easter Sunday.
…The socks, for example, should have been replaced long ago, as I have no mending abilities. As for the underpants, I am happy to see them go. Many of them have by now a senile elastic waistband and are therefore a source of irritation, having to be pulled up at regular intervals and in awkward places. Apart from a few shirts of recent purchase, the rest are well past mid-life and will not be missed.
The loss is not of a financial nature. I am more concerned for the safety of future washings. (page 110)
The stories in A Hatful of Cherries are beautifully written, with Calvino painting the scene so that you can picture it vividly in your mind. The prose is sparse, and each story is handled in a gentle tone despite some dark and melancholy themes. While there were a couple of stories whose meanings escape me, I think it is a solid collection of stories that is worth picking up when you’re in the mood for short fiction.
Those of you interested in Calvino’s work can read the title story, “A Hatful of Cherries,” at The Barcelona Review. Also, Félix emailed me recently to say he has been published in the United States for the first time. His story, “They Are Only Dreams,” is featured in Fast Forward: A Collection of Flash Fiction, Volume 2, which was released in June. Congrats Félix!
Disclosure: I received a copy of A Hatful of Cherries from the author for review purposes. I am an Amazon associate.
© 2009 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.