“The Falling Girl” by Dino Buzzatti

*Short Story Monday is a weekly feature run by The Book Mine Set*

In December, as the end of the year approached and faced with the possibility of missing my personal goal of reading 100 short stories per year, I searched my shelves (and my mother’s) for anthologies to get me quickly to goal. One of the anthologies, Sudden Fiction International: 60 Short Short Stories, sounded so utterly delightful that I decided to start reading the stories as part of this year’s 100 shots of short challenge.

The Falling Girl opens the anthology. This is probably the strongest and boldest short story to lead off any anthology that I’ve read.

It begins with:

Marta was nineteen.  She looked out over the roof of the skyscraper, and seeing the city below shining in the dusk, she was overcome with dizziness.

It then continues with descriptions of the skyscraper and the view of the city at such heights.  It’s magical, as well-lit, well-developed urban mega-cities can be at night.  “It was in fact the hour when the city is seized by inspiration and whoever is not blind is swept away by it”.  In due course, I ‘m reminded of New York, my other city across the Atlantic.

But there is a girl on the roof and as these thing go, she must jump and she does; she falls.  This, of course, grips my heart.  It’s a suicide but the author does not go into any detail about why Marta has chosen to fall or what her particular desperation is.  Instead this:

“Given the extraordinary height of the skyscraper, the streets and the squares down at the bottom were very far away.  Who knows how long it would take her to get there.  Yet the girl was falling”.

And I thought, this is absurd.  It doesn’t take that long to fall however high the height from which one jumps.   But Marta does keep falling.  She falls past floors and rooms with parties in full swing.  People wave and talk to her.  They comment on her looks; Marta is pretty but her clothing is modest.  They ask her to stay a while, but she says she is in a hurry.  Seems she wants to get to the entrance of the skyscraper in order to make a ball on time.  Absurd! She was already on the roof.  She notices other girls, some falling faster than her, most are prettier and in fancier clothes. It seems:

“Flights of that kind (mostly by girls, in fact) were not rare in the skyscraper and they constituted an interesting diversion for the tenants; this was also why the price of those apartments was very high”.

Well, I never! Instead of time speeding for Marta as it should, it slows. Slows, even though she comments that gravity has set in.  It slows, the day ends, years past.  Marta ages.  And she keeps falling. At a lower floor, the 28th, a couple see her falling past and the husband says:

“It’s always like that,” the man muttered.  “At these low floors only falling old women pass by.  You can see beautiful girls from the hundred-fiftieth floor up.  Those apartments don’t cost so much for nothing”.

The Greek philosopher Zeno of Elea postulated a mathematical paradox in which an arrow never reaches a tree because it has to cover any half distance over and over again.  The arrow slows down the closer it gets to the tree.  And if Marta lives in a society where falling girls are attractive sideshows then the generous author Dino Buzzatti will engineer it so that she never actually crashes down.  She just keeps falling.  The couple are denied the lower floor’s “advantage” of hearing “the thud when they touch the ground“.

The author

What a stunning inversion of my reality and my expectations!  I know that it’s a metaphor  for something.  That Marta’s decline in age, looks and emotion says a lot about the world we live in.  But I’m not up for such an analysis today. In fact, I’m speechless.  “The Falling Girl” is just a damn, fine short story. A big, poetic story of only five pages.

The translation by Lawrence Venuti cannot be faulted.  My thanks to Robert Shapiro and James Thomas, the editors of the anthology.  And thank you, Mummy. I’m really going to enjoy this book.

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So who exactly is Dino Buzzatti?  He was an Italian writer, painter and poet. His most famous work is Il deserto dei Tartari  which was translated into English as The Tartar Steppe (1940).  He died in 1972.  His wiki page. I think we need to add his name to the list of authors worth reading. What a mind!

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14 comments

  1. It’s curious, that Marta falls past different types of people in the aprtments on her long and bottomless descent and yet none tries to stop her progress, to dissuade her from her apparent and suicide, apart from those who ask her to ‘stay awhile’, whatever that means. I shudder to think what a mighty thud she will make when she finally crushes. Loud enough for the whole world to hear and say ‘ah, if only.’ Impressive metaphor, I agree with you Kinna.

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    • A thud loud enough for the whole word to hear might just be it. But as the writer as crafted it, Marta is still falling. Such a powerful metaphor.

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      • Yes, Kinna. A writer must write in the genre in which he knows best or feels safe. It is good to experiment, to go beyond ones borders but this ‘venturing out’ should be accompanied by preparation, which in a writer’s case should be reading and reading and reading. You want to be a criminal lawyer but afraid to sit with criminals. What’s that?

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