Boundless as the Sky by Dawn Raffel: Fables and Tales Some of Them True

Cover image for Boundless as the Sky by Dawn RaffellThe pitch for Dawn Raffel’s Boundless as the Sky was such an intriguing one, I couldn’t resist although I wasn’t at all sure it would work for me. I’m more circumspect about accepting books for review published by small presses such as Sagging Meniscus Press, the book’s wonderfully named publishers. The first part is billed as a response to Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities on the fiftieth anniversary of its publication; the second tells the story of one afternoon at Chicago’s A Century of Progress exhibition, all eyes trained on the sky. Not an easy book to write about but I’ll do my best.

Her face, which she’d looked at too much, did not please her, and still she continued to look at it

‘The City Towards Which My Journey Ends’ is made up of a series of fragments, some telling a brief story, others describing cities – some fantastical, others real. The inhabitants of one flee to the hills as their homes are engulfed by a flood which will see future generations returning and evolving. A city of salt is full of pillars in the shape of those who looked back, and who hasn’t done that? Women wear beautiful masks to hide their ageing in a city very like Venice. A successful writer tells the story he’s working on to his lover who demands to know the identity of the protagonist. Some episodes are linked, many are not; some have a vein of dry humour running through them, others are written in gorgeously poetic prose, singing off the page in their lyricism.

The airborne armada will land or die trying, in perfect formation. There can be no hesitation or mistake 

The titular second part is more conventional in its structure, telling the story of the arrival of the ‘air armada’, a company of twenty-four planes led by Italo Balbo, commander of the Italian Air Force, in Chicago on July 7th, 1933, sent from Rome by Mussolini. Raffel tells the story of that afternoon through the voices of several different characters, from the organiser of the exhibition, fretting about his lost watch, to the young man carrying his life savings in his pocket waiting for his beloved. Some of these characters are taken from history but others are ordinary people waiting for the appearance of the extraordinary in the sky, a gesture of power and goodwill from Italy’s Fascist leader, welcomed by America’s President Roosevelt.

Raffel weaves historical details through her fiction, some almost as fantastical as the word pictures of the first section. It is indeed true that the Chicago exhibition had a stand full of babies in incubators overseen by a nurse as Raffel makes clear in her historical notes. A remarkable piece of writing, wonderfully imaginative and inventive. Not one for fans of linear narrative, but I loved it.

Sagging Meniscus: Montclair, New Jersey ‎ 9781952386411 148 pages Paperback

15 thoughts on “Boundless as the Sky by Dawn Raffel: Fables and Tales Some of Them True”

  1. I’m intrigued by this. You caught my attention when you gave the reason for its being written, and from what you say about this book, I can see it’s hard to categorise. The problem with these small publishing houses is that their books rarely make it into the library system, and would I like it enough to buy it? At one penny short of £17.00 not at all sure..

    1. They are pricey, I know, although it’s tough out there for small presses with Amazon and the chains demanding such crazily high discounts. A shame, as it’s such an imaginative, accomplished piece of writing.

      1. Don’t worry, there are plenty of us out there who won’t let Amazon get a penny of our cash. And I will at least go and have a look at Sagging Meniscus’ catalogue. We’ll see.

    1. You’re welcome! It’s so long since I read the Calvino I’m sure I missed many of her allusions but the writing is so inventive and so accomplished I didn’t feel it mattered. I hope you enjoy it.

    1. It’s such a smart piece of writing, Jenny. I only cover books I’d be happy to recommend to a friend and so can’t guarantee reviews. Not a problem for conglomerates but it’s expensive for small publishers to send out review copies so I want to be sure of the book before I accept.

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