Magdalena Tulli. Flaw.
MAGDALENA TULLI. FLAW. TRANS. BILL JOHNSTON. ARCHIPELAGO BOOKS,
2007. 140 PR PAPER: $14.00.
Flaw acknowledges a debt to artifice from first page to last as its
narrator summons from hanging garments and second-hand sets a cast of
characters and props more or less sufficient to stage a dramatic
vehicle. Labor disputes and other "job actions" occasionally
intrude upon the production as conniving hands erect and undermine this
flimsy world. A plot quickens, as a middle-aged notary takes life,
straining to get to work in his unnamed city. But he and the other
residents of a suburban square around which runs a lone streetcar line
find their habits disturbed by a large-scale political debacle set in
motion by a student radical living among them. The notary's office
is misplaced; his son, on the way home from school, goes missing in the
hubbub. The newsboy son of a poor washerwoman, losing his papers and few
prized trinkets, joins a gang of youngsters out to exploit the disarray.
A local policeman, the notary's family maid, a quartet of air
officers in search of a rendezvous point, and other hapless figures
mingle uncertainly, seeking order and stability amid a situation over
which the threat of violence lingers. At length successive waves of
displaced families begin arriving, bag and baggage, occupying, for lack
of better quarters, the square itself, causing all manner of distress to
those above, peering out of their flats into what used to be a commons.
Their burgeoning dismay finally causes the residents to take matters
into their own hands: the refugees are summarily
"disappeared"; life around the square resumes its petty pace.
Tulli's ambiguous intent informs a fictional hermeneutics that
suggests how flawed indeed are the ties that bind, how absurdly comic at
their interstices. Her self-conscious technique displays a mordant wit
that permeates this intriguing novel, winding around itself like an