Almond Wine And Fertilitiy
The most genuine and likeable of these voices belongs to the protagonist of “School Is Out,” a girl who hates her fifth-grade teacher because he doesn’t challenge her. As she details the teacher’s crimes against education (both brought on and left unpunished because it is the year before his retirement), as well as the ways in which she manipulates her situation, she comes to realize that her mother is right: “there is a positive to every negative.” In the case of this student, she credits her burnt-out teacher with inadvertently inspiring her to write. This theme of good things coming from bad situations recurs throughout the book, sometimes in surprising ways.
In “Espresso Cup,” a mother tries to convince her son not to leave his wife. The espresso cup of the story’s title figures nicely, acting as a surrogate for the woman’s feelings for her son while she reminisces about her daughter-in-law as well as her own marriage. When the story ends with the lines “She washed the cup in the sink. She would not use it again,” we understand that she has bid her son adieu without having actually said the words. This kind of understatement is one of Canton’s strong points.
Many of the stories involve under-appreciated or abused wives, and this occasionally comes off as being, disturbingly, just the way things are: a product of Italian culture. In “From the Sixth Floor,” the female narrator describes life in Rome with her abusive husband. He tells her to throw herself out the window of their sixth-floor apartment, and attempts to convince her that she is insane so that she will actually do it. In the end, she makes her escape by train, despite the advice of several parish priests who insist she stay with her husband. With these recurring threads of female subservience, loyalty at any cost, and betrayal by loved ones, readers may wonder if there are any positives in the book that do not spring from negatives – and whether the Italian identity Canton portrays is accurate.
While Canton’s stories are well-written, her refusal to name characters when only two are interacting can cause confusion for the reader. Who are these people, and what are their relationships to one another? In “Twenty-Four Hour Conversation,” it remains unclear whether the male and female characters are old friends, former lovers, blood relations, or former neighbours, and their cryptic conversation doesn’t appear to further any particular plot. This mysterious approach leaves readers with more questions than answers, which frustrates attempts to understand the story’s purpose.
Some of the stories don’t quite work. “Self-Made Man” reads more like a rant against women from one of their own, rather than a narrative written in the genuine voice of a man who is fed up with his wife. Lines like “She should have read the guide to being a perfect wife,” and “As soon as I get rid of her, I’ll be able to live it up,” sound more like the bitter words of an unhappily married woman gossiping about her equally unhappy neighbours, rather than the words of the story’s protagonist – a supposedly powerful workaholic who delights in his wife’s misery. The tone seems wrong, but perhaps even more troublesome for this story is its lack of action. Instead of seeing a situation unfold, readers are subjected to the droning of the male character’s voice, which offers no compelling reason to listen.
Despite sounding a few wrong notes, Canton has created a fine symphony of voices with Almond Wine and Fertility. Leaving just enough room for interpretation, her characters genuinely speak to the reader and offer interesting topics for their conversations. mRb