(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Nothing much happens in this story, which won the New York Society of Arts and Sciences O. Henry Memorial Award in 1983. However, the surface details and what little does happen in “Work” suggest great significance. An American named Robert is at the house of his Italian lover, Alessandro, cleaning and preparing it for Alessandro’s arrival. Giuseppe (nicknamed Beppo), the young son of the widow Mazzini, spends a lot of time with Robert waiting for Alessandro, or Alex, to arrive. With childlike fascination for violence and the peasant’s fatalism, Beppo imagines all the worst things that could have delayed Alex. Beppo rides his horse to Robert’s house to take him to the posto publico to receive a telephone call from Alex. Riding bareback behind Beppo, Robert clings to the boy’s body. At the posto public, he learns that everyone already knows the message from his lover. The plane has been delayed and Alex will take a taxi from the railway station. Robert and Beppo get back on the horse and stop at the widow Mazzini’s house before going to Alex’s house to wait for the taxi. When Alex arrives, Robert serves coffee and brandy to Alex and the taxi driver and biscuits to Beppo. Early the next morning, Beppo wakes Robert to ask that he come to the widow’s house. Alex cautions Robert not to agree to do anything that he does not want to do; he hints that Robert allows others to take advantage of him.

At the widow’s house, Robert, though he...

(The entire section is 570 words.)