REVIEW: “The Smile” by Irene Grazzini

Review of Irene Grazzini, Joyce Myerson (trans.), “The Smile”, Luna Station Quarterly 32 (2017): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

What I often find frustrating about short stories is that they are just so…well, short. It’s hard to do a lot in not many words. So when I get a story like this, where all it takes is the title, a name, and a few words from the first paragraph to make me go “I know what this is going to be about!”, it makes me very happy.

The story did not live up to this initial rush of happiness as much as I wished it would, though. It takes quite a long time to get started, with the narrator spending a lot of precious words on description. Now, this complaint is squarely situated in my mouth as someone who tends to skip over a lot of purely descriptive scenes. In novels, I don’t mind them as much as they’re easy to skip, but in a short story, it sort of feels like a waste. I want the action, not the descriptions!

This story is translated — I assume from Italian but do not know for certain. If there is one thing harder than writing speculative fiction, I’ve always thought it must be translating it, because you have to be true to the original story and the original voice, and neither of these is a trivial matter. There is an added layer of difficulty when rendering a story in another language that arises from distinguishing what must be translated from what must be not. Names, in particular, must be handled with care. Given that I knew from the start of the second paragraph who the narrator was, the naming of her child as “Andrew” jarred me. Knowing what I know about the narrator, and especially given that her husband is named as “Francesco” a few sentences later on, this makes me wonder if “Andrew” in the original was “Andrea”; a later pair of names had me wondering the same thing, where it felt like one had been translated but not the other. Were I standing in Myerson’s shoes, I would probably have translated either all of the names (Andrew, Catherine, Francis etc.) or none (Andrea, Caterina, Francesco, etc.).

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