A Fine Placeby Nicholas Montemarano
A Fine Place opens in the home of Vera and Sal Santangelo on the day their grandson, Tony, is released from prison for his part in the killing of a young black man in the Bensonhurst neighborhood of Brooklyn. What follows is a provocative and deftly told story about a family's struggle with crisis, guilt, and moral stagnation.
- Context Books
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Read an Excerpt
UNDER THE HIGHWAY
Someone held a bat. Someone said listen and the others found bats and they got into several cars. Some were angry and others made themselves angry. They drove to Nino's pizzeria and got out of their cars and waited. They stood on the corner and watched people come out with slices. The door opened and they leaned around the corner and looked. One of them looked through the window and said he did not see anyone inside, and someone told him to shut up and stand with the rest of them, and someone else said let's just wait.
Some held bats that had been designed and shaped and smoothed to hit a baseball; others held long flat pieces of wood. Someone slammed a bat against the ground, and the others heard this and did the same. They waited on the corner and listened for the door.
Someone said there he is, and someone else said are you sure, and one of the others said shut the fuck up, and someone slammed a bat or stick against the street. Someone said nigger and someone else repeated it, and those who were not yet angry made themselves angry.
One led and the others followed.
They ran and waved their sticks until they were tired and under a highway. Under the highway was a field of weeds and uncut grass. There was a tall wire fence and a dog sniffing along it, and there was nowhere to run when you reached the fence. It was difficult, with someone chasing you, to climb this fence and avoid the sharp wires on top and get over to theother side. It was more likely someone would grab your sneaker and pull you down. It was more likely you would let go, even if your hands held tightly the top of the fence. Your hands were likely to bleed and you would give up.
Someone swung a bat and someone else did the same. Some used the thin handle of the bat and others used the meaty part, which had been shaped to hit a baseball.
The dog ran through the grass and was gone.
Someone said not so hard on his head, we don't want to kill him. Someone dropped his bat and so used his fists; someone else used his feet. There was one who waved his arms and heard someone shout nigger, and he repeated this word and made himself angry.
Cars passed on the highway above: the rhythm of tires rolling over grids in the road; for a brief moment, through an open car window, music.
To someone on the highway above, it might have looked like the boys were dancing in the grass. To a child, it might have looked like these boys were trying to break open a piñada that had fallen to the ground.
It was easy to break someone using a bat; it was easy to make someone soft and broken that way, and it could start and end very quickly that way, and so someone dropped his bat and used his hands, and the others did the same and used their feet, and every bat was on the ground and the grass was wet.
Someone was tired and backed away to find his breath, and then he found it and moved to the front and used his feet. Others grew tired and someone said let's go, someone said enough, and those who were tired pretended they were not, and they reached into the grass and picked up their sticks or bats.
One ran, the others followed.
They got into their cars and drove to a school parking lot; they got out of their cars and waited. One of them said what do we do with the bats, and another said what do you mean what do we do with them, and someone else said are you sure that was him.
It was summer; the sun was setting. They sat on the hoods of their cars until the parking lot went dark, and then they got into their cars and drove home.
WAITING FOR TONY
Tony was coming home, how could Sophia think of anything elseher husband dead twenty years this day (she had not been to his grave in five, but used to every year on this day), and her sheets were wet this morning (these little things could be a sign of something serious, her sister Vera would say, you wake up with wet sheets and three months later it's a bad kidney, and Sal would tell her to shut up, you're nothing but a worry wart, it's no wonder people stay away from you, and Sophia would feel sad about her sister, how she would shut her mouth so quickly, but Sophia would not say a word). So what if Sophia did think about other thingsthat was the way her mind worked.
She got out of bed; she groaned; the sheets were wet.
And why so much fuss over Tony, who was not her grandson? He had made his life for himself.
But the answer was there, an easy answer: he was a handsome young man, and he was Vera's grandson, and today could be a new start, today could be, again, young Tony at the head of the table (who knew if he still liked Sunday, five years could have changed him, who knew what he liked, but certainly he was still handsome).
Sophia smelled the sheets; the odor was not strong.
She was not his grandmother, she told herself. Sophia, you are not his grandmother! He belongs to Vera and Sallet them have their day. Let Sal open the door for him; let him ask the questions. Let Vera light his cigarettes; let her change the channel. Sophia rubbed her eyes and imagined her sister hovering over Tony.
(In the apartment below, Vera fried eggs for Sal and thought: The barber said beautiful before my grandson's hair touched the floor.)
They had been waiting five years for Tony, and now it was today, but how would she pass the next five hours?
"Don't cook," Vera told her "Not a single meatball. And don't forget, I know his favorites."
Well is that why he never visited his own grandmother, thought Sophia, even before he found trouble, is that why he showed up at my door looking for a meal, because you know what he likes?
Sophia would make meatballs; she needed to pass the time. Vera was known to not make enough: what if Tony reached for the gravy boat and found it empty? Why come home to that?
Sophia tried to picture Tony. It was almost impossible. But at night, when the stations were off and she finished her romance novel and she was up every half hour emptying her bladder, she saw Tony grinding his teeth, she heard wood smack against bone.
He was not capable of such violence, she thought watching her sheets soak in the tub (but that was years ago and he was not her grandson).
A boy was dead.
It was the others, he had saidhis friends. Sophia never trusted them. They were wise guys, his friends; they had sharp tongues.
The boy's mother was in court every day and it was impossible to hate her. To the papers this woman said, Justice.
"Do you remember, we used to take him to the barber," Vera said to Sal.
"Watch the eggsnot too dry!"
"What curly hair he had!" (She hated to see his hair on the floor, such thick hair swept into a pile, but when she looked up his face was beautiful too, and she would tell him so, who cared if Sal yelled, who would spoil him if she didn't?)
"Your mouth is going and going and you don't watch what you're doing," said Sal. "And we never took him to the barber."
"Sure we did. The barber right next to the candy store."
"I'm sure about this," said Vera flitting around the kitchen with a spatula in her hand. "We would stop at the candy store and buy picture cards for him"
"Watch the eggs!" (This is why no one comes around, Sal wanted to tell Vera. This is why our son shows his face every two years, and our grandson too before he got into trouble, this is why people run away from you, all this talk about the past, people don't want to hear that, who cares about baseball cards and how curly his hair was and what the barber said.) "And keep your mouth shut today," said Sal.
"What am I saying?"
"Don't treat him like a baby. He's a manwhat is he, twenty-five by now?"
Excerpted from A FINE PLACE by Nicholas Montemarano. Copyright © 2001 by Nicholas Montemarano. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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When Robert Coles blurbs a book, it's worth paying close attention. If that's what you give to this book, you'll be richly rewarded. Montemarano is one of the rare writers who can make alternating viewpoints and time shifts not only work, but seem to be the only way, the necessary way, to tell the tale. This author is in fine command of his prose. Churning with racial and family tensions, A Fine Place teems with well-crafted characters who rise above stereotype, because Montemarano cares so deeply for each one. It's difficult to believe such a young writer portrayed the elderly with such spot-on detail, their inner lives as intense as anyone's. Library Journal and Publisher's Weekly are the best in short reviews today it's sad that Kirkus reviewers have such short attention spans. Don't miss Montemarano's new story collection, 'If the Sky Falls,' for another masterful turn.
If you're into action, then everybody should read this book! Good fight scenes and a lot of intense family life! I recommend this book to everyone who wants to read. I thought that it really captured the essense of disfunctional home life. I bought one for my brother, to. This book was awesome!!!
I felt very satisfied by this book. It provided me with exactly what I was looking for: joy. Joy, joy, joy. Joy, and sexy Italian men! Purrrr!!!