Reflections: “Three Other Places”

Reflections is just what it sounds like: short, sweet thoughts on a piece of writing I’ve come across. My intention is to read more short stories published by literary presses, but I’m sure I’ll draw material from all corners of the internet.

TitleThree Other Places by Olga Medvedkova
SourceHudson Review

When reality fails you, dreams suffice, I suppose. The main character of Olga Medvegkova’s Three Other Places, Sigismondo, has no need for dreams, at least not yet. His story is being written; the tense is present, not past.

At the onset of the story, which has been translated from the French by Richard Pevear, Sigismondo arrives in Rome with his servant, Alberto, welcomed by nothing but metaphor:

He entered through the Porta del Popolo, and the city leaped on him the way his dog leaped on him when he came home, plowing into him full force, confident, certain that the master would withstand the blow, his tongue searching out his cheeks and forehead, pushing him, rubbing against him, dragging him into his play.  

From there, master and servant walk to a grand old Villa overlooking Rome, and it is from there the story’s mystery begins. Why are they going there? Who drew the map and taught them the way?

The story is too short to expect answers to such questions, though it seems Medvedkova has little interest in concrete resolutions anyway. Three Other Places offers little-to-no introspection, and instead relies on conversation and a granular telling of story to propel the piece forward, though the writer has stripped out much of the chewy description that may otherwise accompany an Italian tryst; the story may yet be set in Rome, but its prose is spartan.

The Villa suddenly appeared in perspective, at an angle. The white wall, almost unpierced, resembling a fortress, rose up like a wave, higher than the red walls that encircled the city, higher than the houses. The abandoned city below was overhung by the Villa; it ruled alone. Two towers crowned its elevation. The heads of lions sprang from them, their brows creased by a U-shaped wrinkle.

By the story’s end, I felt as though I had missed something. So, I read it again, and once more, looking for narrative clues I hope would reveal themselves to me. None did, nor did I find an answer until I gave up and searched Google using the story’s final moment as inspiration. (If you read it, you’ll see).

With that, the story made more sense, though even then the writer is clearly holding back. But for me, that post-read sleuthing is a dirty feeling, one that corrupts by enjoyment of the story. A story shouldn’t work because of the allusions it draws, but despite a reader’s lack of knowledge on a given subject; and to that end, Three Other Places left me wanting more. For me, this reality wasn’t enough.

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