Finally back in print, a frighteningly lucid feminist horror story about marriage. The Dry Heart begins and ends with the matter-of-fact pronouncement: “I shot him between the eyes.” As the tale―a plunge into the chilly waters of loneliness, desperation, and bitterness―proceeds, the narrator's murder of her flighty husband takes on a certain logical inevitability. Natalia Ginzberg transforms an unhappy tale of an ordinary dull marriage into a rich psychological thriller.
The voice is instantly, almost violently recognizable — aloof, amused and melancholy. The metaphors are sparse and ordinary; the language plain, but every word load-bearing. Short sentences detonate into scenes of shocking cruelty. Even in middling translations, it is a style that cannot be subsumed; Natalia Ginzburg can only sound like herself ... translated with mirrorlike polish by Frances Frenaye ... The mystery of the novel, its coiling allure, is not what happens or why but how ...This book is a Roman candle — quick and explosive ... Where does style come from? Is it knowingly constructed or unconsciously secreted? Invented or inherited? These questions dog me whenever I read Ginzburg, whose thumbprint is so unmistakable, so inscribed by her time, yet whose work stands so solidly that it requires no background information to appreciate ... The war is not merely her subject...it is the weather in her work, the foundation on which her stories are based — the randomness, confusion, lack of resolution or explanation. And above all, her skepticism of happiness — and her passion for writing about it ... these books snare so much of what is odd and lovely and fleeting in the world. It is work that saved and sustained the writer after unimaginable loss. It buoys us up, too.
Ginzburg comes an outsider to a world in which only the most conventional signs, tracing from an ancient era, can be deciphered. From emptiness there emerges, here and there, an identifiable object, a familiar object: buttons, or a pipe. Human beings exist only according to schematic representations of the concrete: hair, mustache, glasses. You can say the same about the emotions and behaviors; they reveal nothing. She doesn’t reveal so much as identify already-established words or situations: Ah ha, I must be in love … This feeling must be jealousy … Or, now, like in The Dry Heart, I will take this gun and kill him ... ... To tell the story here would deprive you of the flavor, the stern clarity that drives the story right through, unfaltering, to the end—that’s the reason that you have to read it all in one sitting.
... [Ginsburg's] observations are swift and exact, usually irradiated by an unruly and often satirical humor. The instrument with which she writes is fine, wonderfully flexible and keen, and the quality of her attention is singular. The voice is pure and unmannered, both entrancing and alarming, elegantly streamlined by the authority of a powerful intelligence. Her work is so consistently surprising that reading it is something like being confronted with a brilliant child, innocent in the sense of being uncorrupted by habit, instruction, or propriety. Ginzburg wastes no time, and the narratives can zoom around destabilizing hairpin turns. And yet the violence at the heart of each of these books is obdurate—immovable and unassimilable ... How quickly the author has presented us with an entire character! ... While the narrator’s miseries are fertile ground for sentimentality and melodrama, Ginzburg’s uncompromising vision shears the story of both ... The narrator makes no claims on us; we are not wheedled into 'identifying' with her or despising her dreadful husband. We observe the protagonists with the equilibrium of clarity—the wife in her barren cage of isolation and irremediable grief, and the husband in his barren cage of self.