The experience of finishing a story in Dino Buzzati’s weird, witty and gloomy collection “Catastrophe and Other Stories” is like waking from an unsettling dream.
In each story, Buzzati sketches enough convincing details to mimic reality. Then things get weird, and the weirdness keeps going. Once I finished a story, I could stop and puzzle over its meaning and significance the same as I would after a dream.
What weird things, you ask? In the title story, “Catastrophe,” a couple on a train trip to an Italian city notice ominous signs that everyone seems to be fleeing the location to which their nonstop ride is directed.
In “Influenza,” a sickness spreads that infects only those who disagree with the government. In “The Monster” a maid is haunted by what she sees - or denies she sees - in the attic. The ill protagonist of “Seven Floors” is assigned to the sanitarium seventh floor, and finds bureaucratic hospital circumstances propelling him downward through the successively worsening conditions of each floor.
I don’t know who Buzzati’s literary influences are, but I see a sprinkling of many writers who specialize in fantastic and experimental fiction, such as Jorge Luis Borges, Jose Saramago, Italo Calvino, and Franz Kafka.
Buzatti specializes in a surreal, dreamlike mood that feels real. Kevin Brockmeier, in his introduction to these tales, notes the “reporterly” sensibilities that Buzzati brings to the “punctilious, almost apollonian gloom” of his stories.
I took great pleasure in reading each of these strange stories. Judith Landry’s translation from the original Italian creates stories that read as effortlessly as a Grimm’s fairy tale.