The Nic Sacco and Bart Vanzetti of Sacco and Vanzetti Must Die! are not exactly the infamous anarchists sentenced to death by the United States government. Instead, in this first novel, they are film stars, slapstick comedians - and this is the story of their rise to fame, from a seedy New York vaudeville club (where they introduce their famous knife-throwing gag) to movies and USO tours (where they open, with disastrous results, for Bob Hope). We see them choosing their roles: one will be fat, the other skinny; ...
The Nic Sacco and Bart Vanzetti of Sacco and Vanzetti Must Die! are not exactly the infamous anarchists sentenced to death by the United States government. Instead, in this first novel, they are film stars, slapstick comedians - and this is the story of their rise to fame, from a seedy New York vaudeville club (where they introduce their famous knife-throwing gag) to movies and USO tours (where they open, with disastrous results, for Bob Hope). We see them choosing their roles: one will be fat, the other skinny; one will be contemplative, the other impulsive. But as their careers decline amid controversy and as the characters grow out of their on-screen roles, slapstick becomes a stand-in for anarchic freedom, and the fictional Sacco and Vanzetti begin to merge with their namesakes. In the process, we're treated to an alternate history of the twentieth century, where liberty is always just a little bit out of reach.
What do comedy and anarchy have in common? That's the question behind this wildly inventive debut novel that recasts the famous anarchists as a pie-throwing slapstick duo. The reader first meets Nic Sacco ("Fatty") and Bart Vanzetti ("Skinny") as comic actors la Laurel and Hardy in Sacco and Vanzetti Dessert the Cause, a film that mixes classic gags with a bitter rivalry. The duo barrel their way from vaudeville to film, finally striking it big with a series of "knife-grinder" comedies that are as violent as they are funny. Like a good silent comedy, the novel has its share of feints Binelli cites fictional interviews and scholarly works about the pair's place in film history. But for all the off-kilter humor, there's an undercurrent of social consciousness that calls attention to the xenophobia of the early 20th century (one of the pair's movies is called A Couple of Wops in a Jam), condemning the role ethnic prejudice played in the actual Sacco and Vanzetti's conviction and execution. It's a hefty book, more intellectually satisfying than emotionally so, and it takes a long time for Binelli to bring together his counter-tale with its real-life antecedents. Still, this is an impressive first outing; ambitious in scope and brimming with sharp-edged black humor. (July) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
This book opens with a few pages about the historic Sacco and Vanzetti, and brief passages about them and their trial are interspersed throughout, but the primary focus is a fictitious comedy team with the same name. Real characters, both the famous (e.g., Bob Hope) and the obscurely bizarre (e.g., Borah Minevich and the Harmonica Rascals), interact with fictitious ones like cowboy star Big Jack Chester and film historian Hylo Pierce, as in E.L. Doctorow's Ragtime. While tracing the careers of the imaginary duo from vaudeville to silent films to talkies to their own trial in the 1950s for stealing the act of a poor Italian American knife sharpener and thrower, first novelist Binelli satirizes and subverts stereotypes about Italian Americans, the entertainment industry, politics, and even the real Sacco and Vanzetti. He cleverly links anarchy and slapstick, as in Bart Vanzetti's observation that his acting was meant to "live out a vicarious anarchy, and perhaps goad it along as well." The novel itself may seem initially anarchic, but Binelli's work is as intricately structured as his characters' knife acts and pie fights. Highly recommended for both public and academic libraries.-Jim Dwyer, California State Univ. Lib., Chico Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
From the Publisher
one story on paper, one floating somewhere in the ether of History, both running parallel to each other and both telling us a little something about how stories (both fictional and historical) are made at all.' -Beau Golwitzer, Bookslut