2000 Drue Heinz Literature Prize Winner
Selected by Frank Conroy
In the Gathering Woods contains a cast of characters who hail from the same Italian ancestors, but whose stories come at us unbounded by time and space. The book opens early in the twentieth century, with a narrator’s boyhood recollections of gathering mushrooms with his grandfather—a narrator who seems still haunted by a terrifying local legend that tormented him as a boy. We skip backward to a young shepherd-artist in the Apennine mountains in the 1500s, who yearns to be discovered, as Giotto was. Later, a preverbal baby accumulates bits of the conversation carried on by adults at the table above her head; a neurologist from Chicago returns to the Apennines to deposit shards of glass at a grave.
Whether they speak in the lost dialect of an immigrant, of infancy, or of an adolescent girl’s school lessons, these stories call up fragments of language in a struggle to understand and attempt to console through the act of reassembling. The language of these stories is both lyrical and comic, providing insight through the details of Bernardi’s writing.
This impressive collection is distinguished by its graceful and engaging language as well as its impressive and varied cast of characters. The stories, which loosely follow a family from Italy during the 1500s to modern-day Chicago, take on the energy of a novel. In the Gathering Woods is even more delightful to read the second time around.
Tony Ardizzone suggests that these stories 'loosely trace a family from Italy during the 1500s to modern day Chicago,' and that is in some sense true, but also in some sense misleading. . . . I would describe the connective thread between the narratives as DNA—and I'm not making a metaphor. The individuals in the short narratives are carrying specific DNA through time, so that the work is not about family in the . . . novel sense with which we are so familiar, but rather about human survival through time itself, with or without the people having a conscious sense of connectedness to each other. . . . One might simply have to read [it] to understand.
Adria Bernardi's new story collection is a wonderfully accomplished work of fiction, telling the stories of such diverse characters as a a 16th-century Apennine shepherd, a wet nurse suffering from a sort of agoraphobia, a pair of Italian mushroom hunters and a workaholic neurologist from Chicago. . . The stories in the collection are so rich in detail, so rich in voice and so rich in history that they often read as sketches of much longer works. . . . These stories are lyrical and lovely. Thes narratives cohere to form an impressive collection.
It is easy to see how this collection earned the prestigious Drue Heinz Literature Prize for In the Gathering Woods is a literary monument of Bernardi's love for language and a joy to read.
Here at last is fiction worthy of award. . . . With crystalline prose, Bernardi illuminates the gentle fatalism and inextricable sadness of Italian families, here and across the sea. . . . Haunting, with a taste in the words like bitter cherries.
Folkloric at first, and full of Italian phrases (translated), Bernardi's somber stories have the outlines of a grand family saga but settle for the minor pleasures of competent ethnic fiction.
Craft and imagination distinguish this short story cycle about a long bloodline originating in a remote Italian mountain village. ...Ranging fluidly over 400 years in the Bartolai family history, writer and translator Adria Bernardi culls a handful introspective types from that lineage and lets them think out loud. These stories flower forth from the family tree with the arresting color of a late -season bloom. Her distincive teqnique, both panaramic and pointillist, has a unique power to make visable minor ancesteral inheirtiances that time tends to rub out.
"Bernardi's remarkable recreation of a slice of Titian's life gives the reader asense of having visited the studio of the great Renaissance Italian artist. It is an aspect of Bernardi's style in these stories to suggest more than she describes about the details of her settings and characters".
It is easy to see how this short story collection earned the prestigious Drue Heinz Literature Prize, for "In the Gathering Woods" is a literary monument of Bernardi's love for language and a joy to read.
Adria Bernardi is the author of a novel, The Day Laid on the Altar, and an oral history, Houses with Names: The Italian Immigrants of Highwood, Illinois, and is the translator of Gianni Celati’s Adventures in Africa, and of screenwriter Tonino Guerra’s poetry, Abandoned Places. Bernardi is the recipient of an Editor’s Prize from the Missouri Review, and the James Fellowship, awarded by the Heekin Group Foundation. Her novel received the 1999 Bakeless Literary Publication Prize from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. She lives in Worcester, Massachusetts.learn more