Blue Italian

Blue Italian

4.0 6
by Rita Ciresi, Ciresi
     
 

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Rosa Salvatore is a nice Italian girl who lusts after beautiful shoes, junk food, and the one sensitive man with whom she can share the sad story of her life. Gary Fisher, a nice Jewish boy studying law at Yale, has a big mouth, a great butt, and more than enough angst of his own. In him Rosa thought she caught a momentary glimpse of something that would help her… See more details below

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Overview

Rosa Salvatore is a nice Italian girl who lusts after beautiful shoes, junk food, and the one sensitive man with whom she can share the sad story of her life. Gary Fisher, a nice Jewish boy studying law at Yale, has a big mouth, a great butt, and more than enough angst of his own. In him Rosa thought she caught a momentary glimpse of something that would help her understand the world - surpass it, even. But the not-so-nice illness that comes between them threatens to destroy their shaky faith in each other, not to mention their faith in God and the universe. Rosa loves Gary like a big war. When the guns fall silent, what will be left? Perfectly capturing life's everyday ironies and the small moments of recognition that loom large in hindsight, Blue Italian traces Rosa's courtship and brief marriage to a man who gets on her nerves the first day she sets eyes on him. We are drawn into the separate worlds of their childhoods: Pizza Beach, the working-class Italian neighborhood where women hang their tattered dishrags on the line like so many flags of surrender; where Rosa's father keeps a photo of Mussolini tacked up in the garage and Rosa's mother goes to church so often she might as well sleep there. We visit the affluent bedroom communities of Long Island, where the Lincoln Town Car rules the expressway and Gary's socially ambitious mother Mimi gets her face lifted on a seasonal basis, and finally we get a peek at Artie Fisher, whose complete adoration of his son proves the power - despite its limitations - of human love.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Smooth prose, a snappy pace and clever, if nasty, repartee give a veneer of fun to Ciresi's bittersweet debut novel (after the Flannery O'Connor Award-winning short-story collection Mother Rocket). But under the shiny surface of this funny, earthy work there's a tremendous amount of pain as, after three years of marriage, Rosa Salvatore and her 31-year-old husband, Gary Fisher, face the fact of his terminal cancer. Bookended by Gary's diagnosis and his rapid decline, the narrative traces their courtship and marriage. Insecure, self-deprecating Rosa, from a working-class, Italian Catholic New Haven neighborhood known as Pizza Beach, is determined to earn a college degree and escape her past. As a hospital social worker, she meets Gary, a wealthy Jewish law student at Yale, when they work together on the case of a black client named Ivory White. Both Rosa and Gary had terrible childhoods, thanks to outrageously neurotic parents. Rosa's are lower-class loudmouths; Gary's mother is a snooker champion who constantly bickers with his father. Both sets of parents are glad to see their children marry, however, and all grieve after Rosa has a miscarriage. Gary's death brings none of the survivors closer, with Rosa suffering many regrets. Ciresi's depiction of New Haven's blue-collar ethnic neighborhoods is complete with local color. Her facile comic energy makes for entertaining reading, though constant wisecracking robs the characterization of some depth. Yet there is real substance in this tragicomic story of two people with smart mouths and starved hearts groping their way towards a love they don't get much chance to enjoy. (Sept.)
Library Journal
A love story with a sad ending, this bittersweet saga explores the short, tragic marriage of Gary Fisher and Rosa Salvatore, opposites who were both unhappy children. Social worker Rosa is still dominated by her Italian Catholic working-class family, while Gary, a Yale law student, is a Jewish atheist with wealthy, stereotypical parents. Products of their cultures and environments, both families are warped and in turn warp their children. The story, told in flashback, defines the parameters of the Fisher-Salvatore marriage until Rosa loses Gary to cancer rather than to another woman, as she had once feared. This is honest, earthy, warm, and funnyas well as heartbreaking. Highly recommended.Ellen R. Cohen, Rockville, Md.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780880015158
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
09/28/1996
Edition description:
1st Ecco ed
Pages:
256
Product dimensions:
5.87(w) x 8.54(h) x 1.14(d)

Read an Excerpt

Gary Alan Fisher had cancer. He was thirty-one years old and he was going to die.

It felt like an earthquake when the doctor told him. Not that Gary had much experience with cataclysmic events. But once, when he was eleven, his parents took him on a trip out west. While visiting cousins in L.A., the Fishers went walking on the cliffs above Santa Monica Beach. Gary remembered some intense discussion between the East-Coast and West-Coast relatives about which afforded the more spectacular view-the palisades that towered above the calm Hudson River or those that overlooked the huge, green Pacific Ocean.

Then, all of a sudden, Gary felt his feet start to vibrate. The lampposts and park benches
quivered and the asphalt path shifted slightly to the right. Gary looked up at his parents. Their
mouths were moving, but he couldn't hear what they said because their voices were
overwhelmed by a low and deep rumbling that seemed to come from the center of the earth. The ground was a wave of soil, and for a moment, the cliffs seemed ready to slide into the ocean.

The earthquake was the scariest thing that had ever happened to the Fishers. But it also was oddly comforting. After the ground ceased to shake, Artie grabbed Mimi's hand, and Mimi grabbed Gary's hand, and they stood there, in the middle of the path, surprised the sun was still shining and they were all still alive.

The California cousins were amused. They called out numbers 3.5, maybe 4.0 (anything more and glass would have shattered in the condominiums across the street)-as if the earthquake(tremor, really) were a short quiz show, staged by God, to test how accurately they could recognize the differentgradations on the Richter scale.

Clearly it was not the thing to be alarmed. So Gary claimed the earthquake was cool. God, it was the coolest!

Mimi's face went pale. She pinched her son on the back of his neck. In her book, there was nothing cool about dying, nothing cool about being on the verge of disappearing right off the face of the earth. Gary could have been killed-he could have been crushed to bits, like ice in a Waring blender.

The West-Coast cousins indulged in mellow laughter.

The week after they returned home to Long Island, the Fishers gave a dinner party. Drinks and unsalted cashews were served on the patio. When asked how he had enjoyed the trip, Artie immediately launched into the story of the earthquake. He pulled out a small, vibrating pillow that Mimi had given him for his birthday to help soothe his bad back and pressed the pillow against each guest's cheek. The pillow let out a low tremolo of pulsation, making the jowls of each person shiver and shake. "Now that's an earthquake," Artie said. "That's what it feels like."

"We felt like ice," Mimi kept repeating, "being crushed to bits in a Waring blender!"

"And how about you?" the guests asked Gary as they chewed on cashews and rattled their mixed drinks. "Did you like it?"

Gary watched Artie press the vibrating pillow against the heavy cheek of Itzie Katz, Gary's dentist and just about the biggest dogbreathed moron ever placed on the planet. Gary was appalled. Now he never would be able to whack off with that pillow again! His father was a fool. These dinner parties, which his mother forced him to attend, were absurd. The guests were
cretins and the conversation was inane.

Gary curled his lip and answered, "Yeah, the earthquake was cool. It felt like the earth let rip a big, killer fart."

The silence was so sustained that Gary could hear the ice cubes melting in the mixed drinks. Mimi gave Gary a murderous glare that promised some form of dire punishment and a long lecture on the inappropriateness of discussing abdominal disorders-i.e., farts while having drinks out on the patio, or, for that matter, at any other point of a dinner party. Artie looked puzzled, then laughed. His son was such a joker, a real wisenheimer! He should be a stand-up comic. He should write for Hollywood pictures. Then he could live in L.A. and be a kid for the rest of his life. Because, bar none, Artie had never seen so many adults acting like four-year-olds as he had in California.

"You should have seen Meem's cousins," Artie told his guests. "The ground was shaking like crazy and they just stood there and laughed like hyenas, as if the whole world were a Technicolor movie, and everything would come out all right in the end."

For some odd reason, Gary remembered the earthquake, and that conversation out on the patio, when the doctor told him he had cancer. As if the whole world were a Technicolor movie... he kept hearing his father say.

Gary sat in a straight-back chair opposite a light box that displayed the results of his ultrasound. Each of the five black and white images showed a different angle of his prostate gland. An ominous shadow, its position slightly shifted in each picture, darkened every screen.

The doctor was Indian. Dr. Harish Mehta. In a high, singsong voice, he described Gary's tumor as if he shared it. What we have here is....We seem to be looking at....We face surgery....Dr. Mehta's voice became higher and thinner as he continued to speak, until the sound disappeared, reminding Gary of the dog whistles he used to see advertised on the Bazooka chewing gum comics: A pitch so high it is indecipherable to the human ear!

Gary no longer heard the doctor. He felt himself freeze, then hum, as if he had covered a comb with wax paper and was playing it like a harmonica, until his lips and face and then his whole body started to vibrate. Yet this sensation did not seem to originate within himself. It came from some outside, unknown force. It was the world itself. It was the voice of the universe, playing Gary like a ventriloquist played a dummy.

Gary felt the vibration inside him for several seconds. Then it disappeared as fast as it came, and Dr. Mehta was asking him if he understood, and Gary had to say, "I was listening. Swear to God. But I didn't hear you. God, could you start all over again?"

So Dr. Mehta took his finger and pointed at the first ultrasound. And Gary, whose photographic memory had gotten him through Simon Wiesenthal Academy, Columbia, and the majority of Yale Law with straight As, was so dazed he had to ask Dr. Mehta for a piece of paper and a pencil. He sat there in his chair, staring at the first ultrasound image as if it were a world map or a periodic table of the elements, and he took notes on his own illness. He even raised his hand
when he had a question. "How do you spell that?" he asked when Dr. Mehta said prednisone. "How long is the surgery? How many stitches?" He scribbled with his pencil and then looked at the sheet of paper. He did not ask the real question nagging inside of him (Christ, why did I get this?) but only "Is it going to work?"

Dr. Mehta pulled out all his stock doctorly phrases. We have excellent chances of recovery. But no guarantees. First, surgery. And then we must have faith.

Dr. Mehta's calm, lilting tones soothed Gary. If Gary closed his eyes, he almost could imagine himself conversing with a Brahman on a hillside. Gary liked this doctor. He wanted to like him. Yes, he fervently did, because he had read somewhere, long ago, that having a good relationship with your physician was an essential ingredient for recovery from cancer or any other grave illness. He wasn't sure where the article had appeared-in some magazine he had perused while waiting to have his eyes examined--Psychology Today or American Health? Or had it been in some unlikely source, such as the Times magazine or Smithsonian?

Ah, he was sick, he was sick! His memory already was starting to fail him.

Gary shook Dr. Mehta's hand and went out into the waiting room while the receptionist, who avoided looking him in the eye, got on the phone and made an appointment with an anesthesiologist and then an oncologist. Gary sat on a wooden chair and stared down at the oak-laminated coffee table. He was seriously ill. He had cancer. And yet Reader's Digest still continued to unfold the drama of real life, Time and Newsweek had competing stories on the fall of Communism, and People showed Princess Di modestly pecking out from beneath her blond bangs as the headlines once again shrieked that her marriage was finally over.

The entire waiting room, from the glossy magazines to the fake ferns, was an insult to Gary's sorrow. And yet it was now his place. It would be his place to sit on kelly-green plastic chairs and mauve and grey sofas, waiting for his name to be called. He would spend hours lying on gurneys, pushed in and out of surgical suites and recovery rooms, propped against X-ray plates and slid through scanners. He would be injected with saline and dye, zapped with radiation, forced to take pills that would make his hair fall out and hollow out his stomach faster than a case of food poisoning. The hospital would become his home. It already was home. He felt like he was surfacing out of a womb as he walked down the wide halls, got on the elevator, dropped to the lobby, and went out onto the street to the parking garage.

He was so dazed he did not even remember he could have stopped right there in the hospital to see his wife. Rosa's office was on the first floor of Yale New Haven Hospital, just off the hail from the main lobby. All morning and afternoon, patients streamed in and out of the social work office-the soft, sad old women from the Dominican Republic, the crack-house mothers from Dixwell Avenue, and the paroled men who hung out on lower Chapel Street in front of the Horowitz Fabric Store, begging the women who went in to buy Butterick patterns to spare them some change, please.

Rosa did not need another sick person in her life, Gary thought. She already had her hands full of seriously ill people. But not his kind. They were the miserable ones, the ones who did not fight back. Rosa complained about that sometimes, the way her clients seemed to dumbly accept their medical condition as if it were another bill presented to them which they couldn't pay. "Of course," she always added, "who's to say what's going on inside them? Who's to say how anybody is supposed to act when they're told they have a brain tumor or AIDS? You have to handle it some way. I mean, much as you might want to, you just can't go berserk. You can't start screaming and yelling like a wild animal put in a cage." Then she paused and said, "I would go bonkers, of course."

Doctors supposedly liked passive patients-dumb and docile, the kind who didn't dare ask questions or expect miracles, the kind who knew how to make nice with death. But Gary already knew he was going to be a pain-in-the-ass patient, the kind doctors and nurses complained about in the privacy of the lounge or cafeteria. He was going to talk a lot. He was going to fight. He was going to be the kind who lived like the rest of his life was a ball of yarn spiraling down a flight of stairs. He would run-frantically, uselessly-to catch it, crashing down upon himself at the bottom.

Of course, no one had said it was terminal. Dr. Mehta only had said it was rare in men of his age. Yet Gary had been trained to hear violins when the words rare disease were spoken. Rare meant freak. It meant fatal. It meant all your relatives, after they found out, would talk about you for weeks.

Gary was so preoccupied, so stunned by the knowledge of his illness, that he walked right past the hall to Rosa's office and went out onto the street. He walked past the mailbox, the newspaper stands, and the hot-dog stand with the pigeon-pooped umbrella, where he and Rosa once bought two franks with sauerkraut. The little old Italian man who took their money merely pointed to the yellow squirt container when Rosa asked for mustard.

Copyright 1997 by Rita Ciresi

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