“The Adventure of a Skier”
by Italo Calvino
translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein
from the July 3, 2017 issue of The New Yorker

Following last week’s brief story by the recently deceased William Trevor, The New Yorker comes to us with another brief story by another dearly departed author, Italo Calvino.

The magazine has actually published a handful of stories by Calvino since his death in 1985, the most recent being “The Daughters of the Moon” in 2009, the early days of this site. In fact, it’s been about that long since I last read anything by Calvino, and he’s most welcome!

I’m looking forward to this one and to your thoughts about it or anything else related to Calvino’s work. Have fun with the story — surely it’s going to be playful, right? — and enjoy the conversation!

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By |2017-07-06T18:36:52-04:00June 26th, 2017|Categories: Italo Calvino, New Yorker Fiction|Tags: |13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. David June 26, 2017 at 7:07 pm

    I was introduced to Italo Calvino when I was an undergraduate student taking a course in 20th century fiction. It was an incredible course. We read Joyce’s Dubliners, Hemingway’s In Our Time, and Kafka’s The Trial, all of which are among my favourite books. Then we read If on a winter’s night a traveller. I was blown away. Soon after I started reading a lot more of Calvino’s work. Mr. Palomar, Cosmicomics, and Invisible Cities are among my favourites.
    .
    Not all of his work has appeared in English yet, but from time to time we get a bit more. In 1996 we got Numbers in the Dark and Other Stories, a great collection. In 2009 we got seven new ones with the publication of The Complete Cosmicomics. “The Daughters of the Moon”, which The New Yorker published and appeared in that book, was a great story. But it has been a while since then. So when I saw on Sunday the tweet announcing that they would have a new Calvino story this week, I was very excited.
    .
    The story they have published is one of the stories from the collection called Difficult Loves that was not translated into English. I have no idea why they did this originally, but the Italian version of the book (published in 1970) had twice as many stories as the English version (published in 1984). Most of the stories, like this one, have titles with the form “The Adventure of a _____”. I did a little digging and as best I can tell these stories were actually originally written and published mostly in the 1950s before being anthologized, with “The Adventure of a Skier” being published in 1959. Calvino had been writing for a decade by then, but it was still early in his career. Yes, he had published both The Cloven Viscount and The Baron in the Trees before 1959, and they are more experimental or magically themed stories than this one is, but there is something about this story that really feels like very early Calvino.
    .
    I am curious what people will think of the story. For people not familiar with his work, it is not really a strong indicator of the kind of thing you might find in most of his writing. I also wonder how people who have are not familiar with his other “The Adventure of a _____” stories might read it. For me, it was both a tremendous gift and a disappointment. A gift because I love Calvino’s work and love getting more pieces of his puzzle to enjoy. But a disappointment because any time I read something he wrote as seemingly conventional as this story I wish it had a bit more of the fantastical to it, like his best work does.
    .
    Don’t get me wrong. I’m delighted The New Yorker chose to publish this and hope it is a sign that we might be getting something like a The Complete Difficult Loves some day soon. I guess I just have very high standards for what I expect from Calvino. “The Daughters of the Moon” met and even exceeded them. “The Adventure of a Skier” a little less so.

  2. Dennis Lang June 27, 2017 at 4:57 pm

    Breathtaking! The rush of it. The incredible visual detail carrying us along. Could feel all of it. For me the language is cinematic, exhilarating camera and editing that grips and doesn’t let go. Hmmm… the girl in the sky-blue windbreaker is Swiss. I think we could cast a twenty-year old Catherine Deneuve in the part.
    My intro to Calvino. I’ll be looking for more.

  3. Sean H June 27, 2017 at 7:29 pm

    I always felt Calvino was a bit gimmicky but when he’s on his game he gets a 10/10 for imagination. Parts of Invisible Cities and Cosmicomics are really just a joy, a splendor of imagery and originality. If on a winter’s night a traveler is a canonical pomo novel but I find it unmemorable and rather lacking in comparison to the best of Kundera. So I’m not a hardcore Calvino fan. That said, I found this story incredibly refreshing and sharply drawn. There’s a really interesting tone. He captures wit, instability, aspiration, and small successes nested within larger failures. It’s a humanist piece that, redolent of childhood and innocence, also manages to portend the complications and internecine gender warfare of adulthood. I have not read Difficult Loves but this makes me curious as to the other “Adventures of” stories. It also serves as an unfortunate reminder of just how pale and lifeless many of the contemporary authors The New Yorker publishes are.

  4. pauldepstein June 30, 2017 at 6:05 pm

    I don’t think this story is better than typical New Yorker stories by contemporary authors, and the commentary is strongly biased by the knowledge of the greatness of the author. Many criticisms that are standard fare on this website could easily apply here. The characters are not strongly drawn; it’s not clear what the point of the story is; we never really get to know the characters etc. etc. Thumbs down for me, I’m afraid, but maybe a different translation would work better for me.

  5. Arleen McCallum June 30, 2017 at 6:08 pm

    I agree with Dennis that Calvino’s images are strong and almost cinematic. I particularly enjoyed seeing “shots” from many different vantage points, especially the one from way above the rest of the skiers. Because Calvino describes skiers movements so precisely, plus details of the marks in the snow one truly feels transported to his scene.

  6. David July 1, 2017 at 8:37 am

    Paul, I found your comment funny because your assumption about bias is the exact opposite of what I described in my previous comment. My worry was that the fact that I have loved so much of his previous work might have raised my expectations of both the style and the quality of the story. Despite that and being disappointed it was not the story I was hoping for and expecting, I still liked it. I have enjoyed it more on second and third readings, too. I find it funny how sometimes when people have a different opinion of a story than others they feel the need to try to explain why everyone else is wrong about it and they are right. Here the simple rationalization is that we are all blinded by bias in favour of the Great Writer while you are the one man who can see through all that and reveals the Emperor has no clothes. The simpler explanation is just that while we genuinely liked the story you didn’t. That’s just how it goes with most stories: some like them and others do not. There is no need to try to explain away the reactions of others as defective to justify your own reaction. It’s just different.
    .
    PS – I am surprised that you did not think it was clear what the story was about. It seemed quite clear to me. If anything, it was a bit too simple and obvious. But I still liked the story. It’s not a great story, but it is very good, and yes, better than a lot of stuff The New Yorker publishes. At least, that’s how I see it.

  7. Greg July 3, 2017 at 4:03 pm

    Sean – Thank you for your great review! The following part helped me sort the story in my mind:

    “There’s a really interesting tone. He captures wit, instability, aspiration, and small successes nested within larger failures. It’s a humanist piece that, redolent of childhood and innocence, also manages to portend the complications and internecine gender warfare of adulthood.”

  8. Greg July 3, 2017 at 4:04 pm

    David – Thank you for teaching me about Italo’s career. Also, I am so jealous of that wonderful class you took in university! Lastly, I intend on following this wise advice you have shared:

    “That’s just how it goes with most stories: some like them and others do not. There is no need to try to explain away the reactions of others as defective to justify your own reaction. It’s just different.”

  9. Ken July 23, 2017 at 2:08 am

    I found this pretty disappointing. I’ve not read any of his novels, but am aware of his high reputation. While the style (at least as translated) is certainly very polished and virtuosic, I found the content rather boring. Obviously, a mundane bunch of stuff can become riveting, but I didn’t find that this transcended its, to me, rather dull narrative. Perhaps I am biased against writing that gets too technical and descriptive. I didn’t need all the jargon and descriptions of physical action and found the main character pretty undeveloped. Most problematic though is the idealization of the girl. Andrew Sarris once described Chaplin’s idealization of women as actually merely the flip side of misogyny. To create this Goddess like girl with her perfection in comparison to the boys seems to rob her of humanity and make her simply a beautiful thing. It reminds me of the way certain men, like our president, like to pretend women don’t have bodily functions. That they are nothing but grace and elegance. She is shown as slim, blonde, perfect while the boys are sweaty and graceless. Granted this may be the point–the idealization of her may be what the story critiques. Maybe. Nevertheless, I found her character (or image as she doesn’t really have much character) tiresome as I did the story.

  10. David July 23, 2017 at 7:23 am

    Ken, I can’t contest that there is a physical component to the difference between the girl and the boys – both in attractiveness and elegance – but ultimately what is important about her is that she is not caught up in merely trying to be like everyone else and better at what everyone else is doing. She does not race down the hill at breakneck speed trying to be the fastest one down as the boys do. She takes long swooping arcs that suggest a different way of moving through the world. She even goes up the hill a different way from the others. The boys ridicule her for her difference, except the boy with the green goggles. Finally, by following the girl to the top of the hill, higher than the other boys even think to go, she shows him the beauty of the hill and the surrounding nature that the others are not even looking for. Ultimately, her idealization is not merely about how she looks or even how she moves (although it is still partly this). It is more about what she sees and what she ignores. Being conventional, doing what the others do and worrying about what the others think of her is not in her nature. And as initially the boy with the green goggles might have been taken by how she looks and how she moves, in the end he comes to appreciate how she sees and thinks about the world around her. The idea seems to me not that she has any less humanity. The ways she is different (and that the boy with the green goggles sees has value) are things he can learn and wants to learn to see and do as well.

  11. Greg July 23, 2017 at 8:42 am

    Thank you David for explaining well this very important takeaway from the story:

    “Ultimately, her idealization is not merely about how she looks or even how she moves (although it is still partly this). It is more about what she sees and what she ignores.”

    In addition, your interpretation reminds me of what Cezanne once asked:

    “I know what I am looking at, but what am I seeing?”

  12. Ken July 23, 2017 at 12:17 pm

    David, Thanks for your thoughts. You make a strong case. Possibly I was being more critical as the story was not pleasing me to begin with. This site is invaluable in allowing for intelligent discussion between readers.

  13. flamingo1983 July 31, 2017 at 9:10 pm

    I had a very weird experience reading this story. I was not familiar with the author, and do not enjoy descriptive stories. I did not enjoy this one either.

    There were moments, however, when I chuckled, and I was able to get a very clear image of the characters. It is excellent writing, but it is not a story. It was drawn out too long. I was convinced of the girl’s perfection and offbeat-ness when she began climbing and the boys sneered. I wish something had actually happened.

    To those who have read his other work, does this fit into a bigger story perhaps ? Somehow, somewhere, easter egg?

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