I spotted The Castle of Crossed Destinies at Barnes and Noble on the same trip in which I found So Big. I was randomly browsing the shelves when I came across this one, large for a Calvino book. The margins of almost every page are lined with tarot card engravings. I was intrigued. Not so intrigued, however, that I couldn’t wait for a used copy to come from Amazon. It got here yesterday, just in time: I’d just finished So Big.
I’m a huge fan of Calvino, but I really didn’t like this one. It’s a game of sorts: Calvino challenged himself to arrange a deck of tarot cards, lining them up so he could make stories out of them. It’s sort of like the Decameron or The Canterbury Tales. A weary traveler wanders upon an old castle, goes inside, and discovers that it’s full of other weary travelers. Except no one inside can speak, and nor can he. Each table is supplied with a deck of tarot cards, and each character lays out cards to tell his or her story. The narrator fills in the blanks. After that deck is exhausted, the narrator moves on to a tavern, where another game begins with a similar deck.
Calvino’s idea is a good one. His work seems more like art to me than literature – read Invisible Cities, and you’ll understand what I mean. The cards are the center of this short novel (if you can call it a novel).
It got old really quickly. If this book wasn’t so short, it would have ended up in the Fail Pile. When I don’t like a book but insist on finishing it, I get through it as quickly as possible. I started reading it last night in bed, and I only got about fifteen pages in. After work today, as usual, I went to Starbucks, finished the second chapter of my thesis(!), and stayed for a couple more hours to finish The Castle of Crossed Destinies. That was pretty fast.
I’m not in any way saying that this isn’t a good book. It’s an interesting experiment, and it’s worth reading. If you’re interested in Calvino, though, I’d recommend you start with Invisible Cities or If on a winter’s night a traveler. I liked both of those much more. Also, keep in mind what I said about more art than literature: Calvino isn’t easy, but he’s totally worth it. If you’re into reading something short and dense, give him a try.