A Fine Place

A Fine Place

5.0 3
by Nicholas Montemarano

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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.


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.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The sensational 1989 murder of a black teen-ager in Brooklyn provides the background for Montemarano's first novel, a kaleidoscopic picture of a family and a community still living with loss, pain, anger and guilt. The mundane routines of Vera and Sal Santangelo's lives assume a tragic shade after their grandson, Tony, is imprisoned because of his involvement with the crime. Vera's sister, Sophia, also falls under this shadow; childless and widowed, she places Tony on a pedestal, idealizing the young man through her hazy memories of his childhood. All are galvanized with anticipation when Tony finishes his five-year sentence and is released from prison, but his reappearance in the family only re-ignites existing tensions. Montemarano chooses to tell the story through multiple perspectives, alternating among Sal, Vera, Sophia and Tony; what the story loses in cohesion it gains in layers of insight. The setting ranges from 1989 to 1999, shifting randomly back and forth and gradually delineating the characters' inner lives through short glimpses of their sad memories and simple daily routines. The actual murder is described only in the first riveting chapter, and in the final one, but in between the banalities of family conversation make it clear that racism is ingrained in their attitudes and has been passed on to Tony and his peers. The older generation's preoccupation with their aging bodies creates a pervasive atmosphere of quiet, understated despair, while the gritty reality of Tony's experiences reveals the chasm between them. What is most affecting is the realization that Tony is the victim of social circumstances, as the sins and daily sufferings of this ill-fated family are revealed in a stark and unforgiving light. (Feb.) Forecast: The arresting black-and-white jacket art and a blurb from Robert Coles should help this strong small press offering pick up a few extra readers. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
When Tony Santangelo's friends pressure him into participating in what had been intended as a beating, one young man dies and another's life is changed forever. Tony, who had few prospects before he was sent to prison for the crime, later returns to his stagnant and repressive neighborhood: the Italian American enclave of Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, a "fine place" for a racially motivated crime. He also returns to a father who can't hold a job and elderly relatives who have been bickering for decades. His great aunt and grandmother smother him with kindness and guilt, while his bitter, sarcastic grandfather is always "in a mood." Chapters alternate between past and present, most narrated by Tony's grandmother, though his grandfather, aunt, father, and Tony himself also speak. With his clannish, close-minded neighborhood still wallowing in fear, anger, and racism ten years after the crime, Tony must confront his demons by himself. This powerful, unflinching first novel, based on real events, is recommended for all public and academic libraries. Jim Dwyer, California State Univ., Chico Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A first novel, loosely based on actual events from the late 1980s, describing the confusions and travails of a young Italian-American from Brooklyn implicated in the murder of a black man. Bensonhurst in 1989 (i.e., the pre-Giuliani era) was trying hard to remain what it had always been: a quiet backwater of Brooklyn, of little interest to anyone who did not already live there. Tony Santangelo, born and raised in Bensonhurst, was a true neighborhood boy with all the proper loyalties, but he succeeded nevertheless in nearly destroying the place by bringing in the one thing his neighbors could not tolerate: publicity. Tony took part in the fatal beating of a young black, an act so apparently wanton and unprovoked that it attracted international attention and set off a veritable invasion of protest marches and rallies. After serving five years in jail for the crime, Tony came back to Brooklyn and took a job as a security clerk. His story seesaws back and forth in time for ten years, beginning in 1989, but the fulcrum of the tale is the night of the slaying, even if the narration is episodic and somewhat rambling. We learn that Tony once had a black girlfriend, we are treated to descriptions of backseat orgies and depraved bachelor parties, and we find casual references to the neighborhood wiseguys who are part of the local terrain. Tony's grandmother Vera likes to cook and spends a lot of time in church. Tony's grandfather Val is a Giants fan. Tony's father Gino isn't around very much. A suspicious-looking black man with a tattoo on his neck seems to be stalking Tony after his release from prison. What does it all add up to? Well might one ask, especially as the whole undertaking is narratedin the sort of workshop prose ("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") that seems intent on making as few points as possible. Plodding, dull, and unappealing: a bad start. First printing of 35,000; author tour

Product Details

Context Books
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.93(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


(August, 1989)

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.

Chapter Two


(December, 1995)

Tony was coming home, how could Sophia think of anything else—her 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 things—that 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 Sal—let 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 said—his 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 eggs—not 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."

    "You're dreaming!"

    "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 man—what 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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A Fine Place 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
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!!!