I’m not sure how to describe Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities. It isn’t traditional fiction on a structural level, having no story arc or a defined ending. Nor is it conventional fantasy, doing away with the worlds it creates almost as soon as it forms them. Even the broadest definitions of historical fiction and magical realism don’t quite fit, as Calvino blends real and imagined details into a concoction of seemingly irreverent tales. Invisible Cities is a travelogue to places that do not exist. It is a work that brushes aside conventions of form and narrative to ruminate on ideas of memory and place, touching on everything from trajectory of civilizations to the limits of communication. At times delightfully whimsical and intensely melancholic, Invisible Cities is a testament to the power of an author at the height of his powers to provoke, enthrall, and connect.
To say my time at the Bread Loaf Orion Writer’s conference was transformative is not quite right. The change I feel is more subdued, more covert, still unfurling after a week. It will take a lot longer to fully unpack, but I suspect that something new has taken root, and that things have been shaken loose. Perhaps this is how one feels after summoning the courage to start going down a new and uncertain road. Fitting then that this came about in the presence of Robert Frost’s cabin, in the Green Mountains of Vermont.