- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
In his succinctly titled second novel, Gangster, Lorenzo Carcaterra (Sleepers, A Safe Place) turns his hand to an archetypal story: the evolution of a powerful American crime lord. An episodic narrative that ranges from turn-of-the-century Salerno to contemporary New York, Gangster recounts the life and times of Angelo Vestieri, a poor Italian immigrant who achieves a distorted version of the American Dream.
The novel begins in 1996. Angelo, who is 90 years old and has outlived his enemies and friends alike, is dying by degrees in a Manhattan hospital. At his bedside are Gabe, an orphan and de facto member of the Vestieri family, and Mary, an enigmatic older woman who was once Angelo's lover. Their combined reminiscences form the substance of the narrative, which recapitulates, in fragmented fashion, the high points of Angelo's career.
A key element of the story takes place in 1906, when Angelo's father, an impoverished shepherd named Paolino Vestieri, murders Carlo, his eight-year-old son, rather than allow the boy to fall under the influence of a local Mafia chieftain. Paolino then flees to America with his pregnant wife, who dies giving birth to Angelo during a stormy Atlantic crossing. Father and son eventually settle in the slums of New York and begin to pursue their vastly different destinies.
The law-abiding Paolino takes on a series of menial jobs, while Angelo encounters the three individuals who will shape, and warp, his life: a streetwise Irish delinquent named Pudge Nichols; a hard-edged, maternal tavern owner known as Ida the Goose; and Angus McQueen, a leading figure in the Manhattan underworld. Angus gives Angelo his first real "job" and his first taste of the highflying gangster lifestyle. From that point forward, the novel takes us through Angelo's rise from small-time hoodlum to embattled ruler of a lucrative, illicit empire. His volatile career encompasses gang warfare, murder, and personal betrayal, and reflects several decades of radical social change. It also costs him almost everything he values and isolates him permanently from the "civilian" world of family, friendship, and everyday human concerns.
Gangster is not an especially literary book. The prose is serviceable but not eloquent, the dialogue often stilted, and the basic material a shade too familiar. It is, however, an intensely cinematic novel that moves swiftly and cleanly through an extended series of vivid set pieces, most of which should play very effectively in the four-hour miniseries currently in development. Gangster may lack the mythical resonance of The Godfather, but it's an energetic, headlong narrative that offers some violent, visceral pleasures of its own.
Bill Sheehan reviews horror, suspense, and science fiction for Cemetery Dance, The New York Review of Science Fiction, and other publications. His book-length critical study of the fiction of Peter Straub, At the Foot of the Story Tree, has been published by Subterranean Press (www.subterraneanpress.com).