A Vaudeville of Devils reveals its weighty preoccupation with its anachronistic subtitle, 7 Moral Tales, introducing the mythic dramas within. Lavish, enigmatic, and faintly sinister, Robert Girardi's fourth book flaunts a Borges-like sensibility, faux folklore encompassing an enormous universe. Moving from the medieval Levant to post-apocalyptic California, its concern is the moment of choice, when characters are confounded by dilemma.
In "The Demons Tormenting Untersturmführer Hans Otto Graebner" an SS officer dispatched to destroy allegedly subversive paintings finds himself first confronted with his own hypocrisy and then, literally, captured by art itself. "The Primordial Face" follows an obsessive Arabian's search for a legendary carving on the floor of the sea while his two divers succumb to the charms of his young daughter. "Three Ravens on a Red Ground" juxtaposes a Crusading knight devoted to a lost cause with a suburban executive troubled by an impending merger. "The Dinner Party" takes place at the end of the world, where martini-sipping gods icily dismiss their flame-ravaged creation. And in "Arcana Mundi," an eerie, fairy-tale-like retelling of an ancient Greek story, a vintner allows two mysterious strangers to raise his young daughter.
Rich in setting if slightly rigid in emotion, Girardi's stories are a strange brew of mystery and meaning. Decisiveness comes slowly to his protagonists, suggesting that, while existence demands resolve, the guideposts are few. Or, as one character explains, "Without God, friend, the world is a vaudeville of devils." --Ben Guterson
From the acclaimed author of Madeleine's Ghost and Vaporetto 13 comes a mesmerizing collection of seven novellas and stories that explore, through the lives of a variety of extraordinary and ordinary characters, our many moral quandaries.
Meet Hans Otto Graebner as he lingers in the beach resort of Ostend, on the North Sea. Soon this haggard SS officer will be dispatched to perform the menial but necessary task of locating and assassinating a degenerate Belgian painter.
Join "The Dinner Party," where a man stands adrift in a distinctly Borgesian universe, somewhere at the end of time. It could be the Apocalypse or some ghoulish carnival. He's attending a feast at an anonymous mansion while the fall of Babylon is acted out around him, and he struggles to hold on to the faint remnants of his conscience while the world goes up in flames.
Turn to a search for "The Primordial Face," in which two expatriates, one of them mute, go diving for a mythological treasure at the bottom of the sea and wind up competing for the love of the obsessive expedition leader's young daughter.
And spend "Sunday Evenings at Contessa Pasquali's," where a man and a woman torture each other with indifference and affection and find that love can be born of terrible schemes.
With this volume, Robert Girardi illustrates a world that is both beautifully alluring and brilliantly sinister, where souls are lost and won on the simple weight of everyday decisions. Rich with history and irony, vastly entertaining and told in the timeless style of tales, fables, and myths, these meditations on morality remind us of the eternal human condition.
From the Hardcover edition.
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