Book review: A History of Objects by Carlo Pizzati

From the back cover:

“A candy box reveals a son’s true feelings for his mother. A fish sculpture creeps into a budding and healthy relationship. A splint on a music teacher’s finger threatens to expose a secret.

Objects can come to hold great power over life and the course it takes. This collection of short stories explores the nuances of the human experience as objects of sentimental value, nostalgic appeal or cultural significance bear witness and shed light on all that remains unsaid. A History of Objects expertly demonstrates the ways in which the inanimate are far from lifeless.”

The objects we are surrounded by define us. They are a repository of emotions and memories…a map of our relationship with the world around us.

In this collection of 23 short stories — and they are short; no story is over 10 pages long, most are much shorter — a number of objects play a central role in a narrative. Others make a brief appearance at pivotal points in the story.

Like with most collections of short stories, some of these stories are better than others; I’ve come to believe it’s a function of the genre. But as a sum of its parts, A History of Objects is a very pleasant read — often delightful, sometimes tongue-in-cheek, occasionally frightening.

The book opens with a story titled The Hard Drive, which sets the stage for why this is a collection of stories about everyday objects. Because a hard drive stores memories, and when it fails, those memories tend to scatter and refract.

“I have a file with the word ‘Objects’ in the title. What did it contain? Stories. Histories.”

And so here it is, this collection of stories…of objects…of memories…

Of The Coconut Scraper, a tongue-in-cheek story of the gullibility that underpins modern art; of the false sense of safety created by The Driver’s License, of The Teddy Bear that is witness to a pivotal moment that changes a young girl’s life.

The Splint tells the story of a dream reborn. When a London-based music teacher lands in the ER after fracturing his pinkie finger in an accident, he finds out that he has been “unknowingly dead” for 20 years — due to a clerical error after a kidney operation.

“I really had been dead for twenty years,’ he says, ‘or, rather, my true dream [of being a musician] had.’

…‘When they were putting this splint on my pinkie in that hospital, I felt this was my chance to be reborn,’ he says to the adoring dozen, the Spanish fellow with his mouth half-open in awe of this cheap symbolism.“

Some stories are observant, often harsh commentaries on modern life. In The Mask, set in Italy in COVID times, Piazzati writes:

“One evening, as he quietly sang and watched everyone else sing together, it seemed to him as if they were celebrating their victory over a virus, rather than being afraid of catching it. What kind of virus had kept them away from all this, away from such communal joy, found simply by opening their windows and singing with those who had been strangers before? He knew they must have had a virus: the virus of ambition, of busyness, of the constant need for entertainment and the desire for useless things.”

In The Smartphone, a husband and wife are blindsided when they become overnight Instagram sensations. Instead of focusing on the work they had been invited to do at the Artist’s Residency where they are staying, they find their every waking moment taken over by the never-ending demand of the ‘gram.

“We were trapped by our new life, on this farm, in the middle of the Suffolk countryside, where we had only meant to stay for two weeks, but now couldn’t escape because of the wealth generated through our social media.

We were ‘alone together’ in our virtual unreality, stuck in information anxiety, lost in the shallows of a Technopolis, having lost our battle against the machine, suffocated by our own net delusion. In other words, happy. But not.”

As Pizzati writes in a note at the end:

“I have attempted to contemplate what is fictional within what is real, as I’ve tried to capture what is real in the fictional. Living can be experienced as a fictional story and reading a fictional story can be extremely close to a real-life experience.”

It can, indeed! I’m fairly certain you’ll see pieces of your own life reflected back in some of these stories.

And while you may like some stories more than the others, by the time you turn the last page, you may be tempted to look at some of the objects surrounding you wish fresh eyes!

Book details:

Title & author: A History of Objects by Carlo Pizzati

Publisher: Harper Collins

Genre: Literary & Contemporary Fiction; Short stories

Number of pages: 219

Price: 399

Purchase on Amazon

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I’m an artist and art educator, podcaster, tarot reader, and writer. I share my discoveries along the path to inspire you to live a more creative, soul-centered life. Receive my love letters for more of my musings on life and creativity. P.S. I love Instagram - join me there?

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