Allison's Book Bag

Piccolo by E. Merwin

Posted on: January 20, 2016

Imagine going to America to find your father and fame, only to end up a mistreated art intern. From E. Merwin comes the most unusual tale of Piccolo, about an Italian greyhound who also happens to be a sculptor. Told from the viewpoint of animal, the style of Piccolo is uneven and the plot occasionally contrived. At the same time, the complex characters and the rich setting engage.

Let me start with the characters. The narrator, Piccolo, was born on Christmas Day in Venice. As a pup, sitting at the family balcony, he watches his mother paint with delicacy and detail. In his father’s studio, he learns to enjoy the clang of steel. His love for his parents, and for art, becomes evident through the text. Piccolo also relishes food. One day his mom has to search him out, only to find him with two paws on a glass case, transfixed by the savory snacks in the display.

Besides Piccolo, there are his parents. His father is a renowned sculptor, whose forefathers have followed the occupation of stone-cutters, and who now trains Piccolo to carve wood and chisel stone. Sadly, Piccolo’s father also possesses an adventurous nature. One day, he packed his leather satchel with his sculpting tool, and prepared to leave the family for America. Before doing so, Piccolo’s father asked the family to take good care of his vintage books and his prized collection of records. Then he took his pork pie hat and bid farewell. He promises to send for the rest of the family, as soon as makes his fortune, but that day never comes.

His mother is an artist, who is also well-known for her gracious nature and her luscious coat. Piccolo writes that when his mother paints, her artwork comes to life because of the colors and the textures she employs. His mother disapproves of Piccolo’s wanderlust nature, encouraging him instead to study closer the art all around him. For a time after his father leaves he does. Eventually though, despite how now the family must live in hardship, Piccolo decides to also sail for America. While on a ship that will take him to his desired destination, he meets a famous artist who convinces Piccolo that not only does he need to focus on steel in his art, but he needs to set himself up with the right connections. And so begins Piccolo’s plight.

Next let me turn to the setting. This short novel starts out in Venice, in “a quiet neighborhood of morning markets and small cafes besides the green waters of the Grand Canal”. We read about the city and its resorts, galleries, and studios. In addition, we read about the markets, their food, and other wares. Although this is a fictional tale, in the back pages, there’s even a glossary of Italian phrases and words. Even when he leaves for America, his hometown of Venice is never far from Piccolo’s heart.

About halfway through, the setting switches to New York. Here, we learn less about New York due to Piccolo being confined to a studio, but we do read plenty about the sometimes unpleasant world of the artistic. Scattered throughout this short novel are cutout illustrations. The back pages also lists artwork by the masters that relate to greyhounds. We also read about tantalizing meals. Indeed, Piccolo is so entranced by food that it serves partially as his downfall in New York.

Finally, I’ll address the minor flaws. The style is uneven, both in description and dialog. At times, there are too many details. Especially in the first third, the dialog often moves slowly and doesn’t feel natural. Then there’s the plot. Initially, not a lot happens. Near the end, there is a rescue that feels contrived.

I enjoyed this unique tale, which promotes both animal welfare and art appreciation, and have already started reading part two. Also, E. Merwin has collaborated with author, rat fancier Cynthia Stuart, to create My Improbable Mischief which is being serialized in It’s a Rat’s World Magazine. All these selections are worth a look!

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

2 Responses to "Piccolo by E. Merwin"

I agree that Piccolo will appeal to a certain kind of reader. Part of what I like about reviewing books is that this is how I most often discover these unique books.

My husband would call this book pedestrian. He will not read pedestrian. I will though.

Have a fabulous day. ☺

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