Picks and Pans Review: When in Florence

updated 02/17/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/17/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Richard Cortez Day

These are short stories, but all of them are set in Italy and many overlap in time, incident and characters. This is a book full of profound riches. In "A Chagall Story" an old man falls on the street and dies, and his spirit begins looking for his wife, who died many years earlier. "Relative Motion" is about an American reporter who is writing a column from Florence with more and more help from his wife. This tale starts with his trying to describe the death of the old man in the earlier story. In the third story, a young American woman comes to Florence because her father, who owns a bookstore there, is dying of leukemia. She too sees the old man die in the street and, because he has a yellow jonquil in his lapel, buys two dozen flowers for her father. In "The Pleasures of the Senses," the funniest and one of the most beautifully imagined stories in the book, a shoeshine man with a fat wife and five small children spends his whole day engrossed in wild fantasies about every woman he encounters. In a fine story about a priest, the clergyman muses, "So many locks in Florence, so many bars and security devices: Half the population were thieves, the other half misers guarding their ill-gotten possessions." Despite the thievery, the violence and death, the ancient Italian city and its landmarks, tourists and people are splendidly illuminated and cleverly used. (Doubleday, $15.95)

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