“Love has many faces,” Francesca Marciano reminds us at the end of the next-to-last of these nine stunning new stories. Her characters, mostly women of various ages, are all experiencing endings. How each of them moves on — and they do so simply and quietly — makes for one of the most consistently moving collections of stories in a long while.
Plots unfold in a small vacation village in Greece or the Venice Film Festival or a Starbucks in New York City or an exclusive retreat in India or a remote conclave in Africa. A young girl will fall in love or a woman will return to her roots. A discontent wife on vacation and an elderly woman on the African plains will each discover the impermanence of the lives they have felt secure in.
In the evocative title story, set in a sun-drenched Greek village, a vacationing teen deals with first love in a language other than her native Italian — an incident that will haunt her into adulthood. In “Quantum Theory,” a chance meeting in a New York coffee shop ends in a mature realization years after a breakup: “This is a grace, Sonia thinks, to be able to look at it and say this is what we have, rather than this is what we can’t have.”
A marriage dissolves during the course of “An Indian Soirée” as a husband ponders “the simple truth contained within a perfect act.” In “The Presence of Men,” a recently divorced woman bumps up against the traditions of an Italian village while coming to understand “she wasn’t ready to accommodate other people’s joy yet, she didn’t have enough room in her.”
Two of the best stories are also two of the most self-effacing. The young documentary filmmaker of “Chanel” never wears the Chanel dress she extravagantly buys for the awards ceremony at the Venice Film Festival. Over the years the dress becomes a serene reminder of an unwarranted life she thought she needed. The elderly widow of “The Club” finds the evanescence of life an acceptable adjunct to remaining open not to what she wants but to what she needs.
Each story in “The Other Language” is a gem. Each story is unforgettable as it examines people at watersheds in their lives. One expresses it for all the others in this exceptional collection: “Delayed pain was the story of her life: it was exactly for this reason some people called her an optimist and others a fool.”
From myriad locales and always with tender understanding and gentle humor, Marciano insists we look at our worlds and say “this is what we have, rather than this is what we can’t have.”
Steven Whitton is a professor of English at Jacksonville State University.