Anyone who has ever been bewitched by Venice cannot help being drawn into Jane Turner Rylands' latest collection of short stories set in...

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“Across the Bridge of Sighs: More Venetian Stories”
by Jane Turner Rylands
Pantheon, 354 pp., $22

Anyone who has ever been bewitched by Venice cannot help being drawn into Jane Turner Rylands’ latest collection of short stories set in Venice, aptly titled “Across the Bridge of Sighs: More Venetian Stories.” Like her 2003 debut collection, “Venetian Stories,” this suite of seductive tales is set in contemporary Venice and includes characters who dip in and out of various stories, sometimes as protagonists and sometimes playing cameo roles.

Rylands’ characters are architects, aristocrats, artists, rich Americans, civil servants, reporters, business people and students. Together their stories flesh out Rylands’ clear-eyed but affectionate portrait of Venice as a magical city caught between the glittering magnificence of its past and the troubling realities of its present a city of crumbling palazzos, a dwindling population and a fragile land mass that is literally sinking into the lagoon.

Having lived in Venice for 30 years, Rylands has an intimacy with the city that comes through in her details about aspects of Venetian life that day trippers disgorged from cruise lines never see. In “Restoration,” her opening story about the restoration of a palazzo and the lives of the aristocrats who own it and the architect who restores it, Rylands describes the bleak, wet, Venetian winter as a season that “lingers on like a gloomy guest with nowhere to go.”

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In “Youth,” Rylands tells of the disillusionment of a Venetian teenager who believes that his fabled native city, for all its tarnished splendor, offers no future for an ambitious young man. His pride as a Venetian is singed when, sitting at an outdoor cafe, he witnesses a crowd of tourists pick up their video cameras to record the playful antics of a terrier who has run off with a baby’s toy. As the young Venetian mother of the infant chases the dog, he is embarrassed, as is the young woman, to think that this slice of her daily life will become a humorous interlude on someone’s vacation video. Like animals in a zoo, the Venetians themselves have unwillingly become amusements for tourists.

One of pleasures of reading Rylands is that she gives her readers an insiders’ tour of Venice. She takes you to secret passageways and forgotten palaces to meet the Venetians you’d never encounter as a tourist. If you’ve ever longed for a more intimate glimpse at this sorceress of a city, Rylands draws back the veil.