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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Stuff, 31 Jan. 2003
A. Ross (Washington, DC) - See all my reviews
This review is from: A Vaudeville of Devils (Paperback)
We read this for our bookgroup, putting an end to three years of my intending to read it. The seven stories here range from 20-110 pages and are united by both the theme or morality and Girardi's excellent writing and ability to create a vibrant sense of place and dark tone. He's said in interviews that he's deeply influenced by Poe and Hawthorne, and it's entirely evident here, for these are not short stories in the modern style, but tales in the old-fashioned sense. Spanning genres, from historical fiction, to sci-fi, to thriller, to crime, to romance, the stories revolve around moral choices faced by individuals. The stories are not perfect however, due to their semi-mythic nature, some wander rather close to cliché and predictability. And at times, certain characters are a little too single-minded or focused on one thing. Different people will, of course, have their own favorites.
The opening story, "The Demons...", is the brief WWII tale set in occupied Holland. The tale of an SS officer ordered to kill a Dutch painter can almost be considered a warm-up for the rest of the tales. The next story, "Three Ravens on A Red Ground," is the least nuanced of the seven, and probably my least favorite. It switches back and forth between the story of a Seattle businessman whose firm is being bought out by a Japanese firm, and the story of his ancestor who fought in the Crusades. "The Dinner Party" follows it with a brief semi-surreal tale of alien invasion in which the question is raised as to whether one should compromise one's ideals in order to alleviate suffering for many. As a take on "The Last Supper" it's not a bad idea, full of vivid imagery, but not particularly satisfying either.
The fourth tale, "The Primordial Face," was my favorite-though interestingly enough, the least favorite of many of the people in my book club. It's the story of a Yemeni businessman in pursuit of a mythic treasure lost at sea who hires two freelance divers, one Cuban-American, one German, to join him on a secret expedition. There's a great mood of dark adventure and tension that builds to a somewhat uneven conclusion. Still, this is the tale that had me engrossed far more than any other. "Arcana Mundi" is an interesting sci-fi story set in Napa Valley of the past, just after a plague has wiped out the grape harvest. The moral question here is again one of whether one should sacrifice for a greater good or not. It engendered more discussion amongst our group than any of the other stories.
The sixth tale, "The Defenestration of Aba Sid" is a legal/crime story set in Washington, D.C. It concerns a hopeless public defender who gets assigned the murder case of a notorious Russian mafia type so that the Feds can be sure the Russian will get convicted. It's not really clear why the Russian can't hire a "real" lawyer, but putting that aside... The realization of why he is assigned the case transforms the public defender from schmuck to determined worker, and he digs deep into the Russian's case. The crime story is fairly interesting, as is the Russian Mafia background material. The moral issue reveals itself at the very end, and revolves around the notion of justice. The final story, "Sunday Evenings", revolves around an American expatriate in Naples, and is rather languid and desultory.
Altogether a highly satisfactory reading experience and one that'll have me seeking more of Girardi's work out.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Eclectic Pick-'n-Mix, 16 Mar. 2000
Peter Taylor (cleckheaton, West yorkshire United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
This review is from: A Vaudeville of Devils (Paperback)
The good bit are great and the bad bit are not all that bad. Special Praise must be given for the amazing merging of the Merger and the Knight's Crusades, it is truly great. The book is very easily approached and contains a thoroughly mixed crop of ideas. No one writing style seems to dominate, or a specific subject for that matter. Anyway, i personally recommend the book.
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A Vaudeville of Devils
A Vaudeville of Devils by Robert Girardi (Paperback - 16 Mar. 2000)
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