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Magdalena Tulli. Flaw.


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 Escher drawing.
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Author:Pinker, Michael
Publication:The Review of Contemporary Fiction
Article Type:Brief article
Date:Mar 22, 2008
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