Panos Karnezis: Little Infamies

Panos Karnezis
Little Infamies
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Little infamies. Venial sins. White lies. Private pain. Secret grudges. Minor wounds. The stuff of small-town life, or of life anywhere, really. But in the tiny, nameless Greek village of Panos Karnezis's Little Infamies, minor wounds fester, secret grudges cry out for retribution, and a petty transgression becomes a horror in the space of a well-turned phrase.

Such horror sneaks up on you when it comes cloaked in subtle black humor and a fablelike aura. (The 19 interconnected stories are peopled by characters often known only as "the butcher," "the landowner," or "the warden," not to mention the occasional centaur or sphinx.) In fact, I'm loath to give examples of the dark turns of fortune here, because it's that sinister twist that makes these stories so enjoyable to read--and some of them so difficult to reread, once you realize how each sentence is actually dripping in blood.

Where there is no horror--no Luger, no knifing, no wild beasts--there is still sadness and isolation. This nameless village is caught on some unidentifiable cusp of history, sometime after the world wars and before the present day, and it's about to be (literally) wiped off the map. In the end, the villagers all go down together, but that collective fate doesn't mean that they'll trade their day-to-day scheming or mourning for a neighborly barn-raising.

When the outside world mistakenly stumbles across this little corner of nowhere, like the itinerant photographer in "Immortality" or the so-called hunters in "The Hunters in Winter," or when one of their own ventures to the capital city, the villagers are revealed for the yokels they are: suspicious, shy, and easily awed by gilded trappings like nylons and eau de cologne. But on their own turf, the piously meddling Father Yerasimo, the cruel feudal landowner, the swindling stationmaster, and all the others have the power to inflict their little infamies on one another. And so they remain oblivious to the greater power that will soon engulf them all.

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