William Goldman,
The Silent Gondoliers
(Del Rey, 1983)

Few things in life can be counted on, but S. Morgenstern (the alter-ego of William Goldman, of The Princess Bride fame) is one of them. His voice is so strong that I found myself pulling into body language as if it was my story being told, or tapping my glass on the table for emphasis. Leaving behind Florin and Guilder for Venice, S. Morgenstern presents his research into the baffling question: Why have the gondoliers ceased their singing? Considerately, the scholar translates his findings into American colloquialism. To ensure us of authenticity, he discloses his research methods and sources. Giovanopoulos' illustrations add detail and panache. But of course, all that is not really the point. The real question is: How does the story hold up to its lauded, cult-favorite predecessor?

I certainly hoped it would do well when I bought it, considering its cost and its shorter length. But I brought it home anyway, without starting to read and having to stop, because anything by S. Morgenstern was simply not optional -- it was a Must Buy. When I opened it my heart was in my teeth, just hoping that on this holiday weekend my anticipated pleasure would not be disappointed. By the time I turned the second page, all fears were completely laid to rest. Being let down had become Inconceivable. Luigi, Morgenstern's new hero, has the patience and determination of a Montoya. The setting is less fantastic, the story not so romantic ... but that only leaves you less distracted from noting the sharp tones and simple truths contained in The Silent Gondoliers. It left me pondering S. Morgenstern's secret. I have decided that it is this: Everything he writes always, always comes down to a beautiful concept. Then he gives them color by forcing them through different tones. Whether he's mocking it, highlighting it, tearing it away or pointing out how most people don't notice that particular idea can be beautiful, its innate worth shines through and gives his stories that wonderful, satiating feel.

At the end of the day, you can't expect another Princess Bride. If it's the fighting, the swashbuckling or the romance of that story that reeled you in, you might find this book lacking. If you aren't looking for a second Princess Bride (and after all, why need another one? It's all there already), go forth and read this one. Every so often you come across that book everyone talks about, the one so many lesser books -- good books, great books, but not quite this book -- are sold as: one that can make you laugh out loud and then bring tears to your eyes. The Silent Gondoliers is that book. I've just done my best to explain why.

book review by
Whitney Mallenby

2 June 2012

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