Numbers in the Dark is a posthumous collection of short stories by Cuban/Italian author Italo Calvino. It was published as Primal che tu dica "Pronto" in Italy in 1993, then translated into English by Tim Parks and published as the above in 1995.

Numbers is a well-stocked collection. It is divided into two parts: "Fables and Stories: 1943 to 1958" and "Tales and Dialogues 1968-1984". The first part is earnest; it is a group of short, ironic stories that sometimes surprise with their cleverness, often echoing O. Henry. He does not experiment much with form; he focuses on mainly the plot and characters. As a rule, these are warm, human stories, sometimes poignant. The second part is much more experimental--in his later years, Calvino became even more postmodernist than before. These stories take the guise of interviews with various people (sometimes humorous, often thought-provoking), as well as Oublipo-esque examples of "recombinatory prose". In some of them, he delves very deeply into mundane things. Towards the end of the book, they trail off into relative incoherency (much like The Unnamable was, at least to my eyes, far inferior to the rest of Beckett's trilogy). I'd have to say I prefer the first part, although some of the stories from the second are masterful.

Of particular note is the titular story, "Numbers in the Dark" itself. It describes a cleaning lady and her son, who are in an office late at night. Wandering around, the boy finds an old, disillusioned accountant. The accountant says that the numbers produced by the computer are wrong--and proceeds to explain that way back when the corporation was founded, one of its original members, a genius, made an accounting error. This has snowballed, and now the company, the largest in the country, is built completely on the consequences of that one mistake. Given Calvino's socialist roots, I think it's easy to see what he's saying: capitalism is a lie.

List of Stories

    Fables and Stories 1943-1958

  1. The Man Who Shouted Teresa
  2. The Flash
  3. Making Do
  4. Dry River
  5. Conscience
  6. Solidarity
  7. The Black Sheep
  8. Good for Nothing
  9. Like a Flight of Ducks
  10. Love Far From Home
  11. Wind in a City
  12. The Lost Regiment
  13. Enemy Eyes
  14. A General in the Library
  15. The Workshop Hen
  16. Numbers in the Dark
  17. The Queen's Necklace
  18. Becalmed in the Antilles
  19. The Tribe with its Eyes in the Sky
  20. Nocturnal Soliloquy of a Scottish Nobleman
  21. A Beautiful March Day


  22. Tales and Dialogues 1968-1984

  23. World Memory
  24. Beheading the Heads
  25. The Burning of the Abominable House
  26. The Petrol Pump
  27. Neanderthal Man
  28. Montezuma
  29. Before You Say "Hello"
  30. Glaciation
  31. The Call of the Water
  32. The Mirror, The Target
  33. The Other Eurydice
  34. The Memoirs of Casanova
  35. Henry Ford
  36. The Last Channel
  37. Implosion
  38. Nothing and Not Much

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