Jonathan Fein On:
The Girl Goes to Calabria by Giuseppe Berto
A lawyer picks up a Swedish hitchhiker, tries to seduce her and comes across a strange surprise, which prevents him from following through with his intentions. That sums up the entire plot of The Girl Goes to Calabria. However, the real drama doesn’t take place in reality, but in the protagonist’s mind. From the moment the hitchhiker gets in his car, we bear witness to his deliberations and to every obstacle that stands between him and the realization of his desire: the established norms of behavior, the moral code, and eventually even logistical difficulties. It is fascinating to observe the moral and emotional gymnastics that the protagonist is repeatedly required to perform in order to overcome the obstacles that keep coming up. The humor about his situation — a kind of biting, self-conscious humor more rewarding than merry — is expressed in the exceptionally eloquent language of the story, which even dips into legal jargon. Berto performs miracles with his crafty prose, using it to indicate the distance between our primal decisions and the words and arguments that we evoke in order to justify them. This modest story succeeds in meeting one of the most important purposes of literature: penetrating a person’s pattern of thought, and in the process, discovering more about the nature of people in general.