Tempting Faith Di Napoliby Lisa Gabriele
At heart, Faith DiNapoli is a good Catholic girl. She's memorized all the prayers and hymns. She daydreams about her First Communion. She's pretty sure Jesus loves her. But she's angry. Angry with her father for leaving, her mother for never going anywhere, and her dysfunctional siblings -- just because they're around. And though she knows the Bible says the meek are blessed, Faith can't help but covet beautiful things and try to obtain them in any way possible. So Faith lies, cheats, and steals. In fact, she breaks almost every one of the Commandments, mostly by accident. At the same time, she grapples with the girl she thinks she should be, the family she's supposed to be a part of, and the imaginary life she may never live.
In Tempting Faith DiNapoli, Faith does more than grow from innocent eight to headstrong eighteen. Faith struggles with her new bad habits, fends off bad boys who want more than she should give, and contemplates a future that looks worse than her mother's past and present.
The DiNapolis are mismatched, broke, and dysfunctional, but they fight with and love one another with equal parts ferocity and devotion, laughter and tears. All the while, Faith prays for a happy ending. Or at least for something not too, too bad.
One part Beverly Donofrio, one part Frank McCourt, Tempting Faith DiNapoli is a charming, fresh, bighearted debut.
“This book is innocently impious, purely vulgar, harmlessly violent, blamelessly profane, profanely spiritual, unambiguously funny and unabashedly unique. It explodes with the kind of raw, bawdy, chaotic, intemperate life force rarely found in Canadian literature.” Hamilton Spectator
“Here’s a debut novel that proves crises of family and faith can be laugh-out-loud funny and deeply poignant at the very same time. Gabriele’s touch is deft, infectious, and loving as she brings us into the world of Faith DiNapoli and her unforgettable family.” Marnie Woodrow, author of Spelling Mississippi and In the Spice House
“Lisa Gabriele writes with deep meaning, truth, and humour in her wonderful debut novel about growing up. I loved the world Gabriele creates, rich in detail and emotion. Faith DiNapoli is a delight: her struggles are universal and her aim is true.” Adriana Trigiani, author of Big Stone Gap, Big Cherry Holler, and Milk Glass Moon
"A bright and genial debut about a girl's awkward coming-of-age in 1980s Canada. Good-natured, witty, told with an agreeably light touch a story that enchants with its own simplicity." Kirkus
- Doubleday Canada
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x (d)
Read an Excerpt
These are the things I remember about the city. The crumbly, brown-bricked houses in our neighborhood were stacked so closely together, I used to pretend when I was four, they were the chipped, rotting teeth lining the mouth of an urban ogre, and the people who lived inside were busy little cavities. It was as though we all lived in the same house. If we were bad and sent to bed early, we could easily peek across the street into the Trevis’ living room and finish watching the TV show with them, guessing at the dialogue.
Privacy was something only rich people enjoyed.
Our house, in Little Italy, shared a wall with the Rossis’ next door, and our clothesline connected with the Pilettis’ behind us. My mother used to say that if one of the neighbors’ houses was swallowed up by hell, we would all be pulled down with them. When I was little, I didn’t understand her jokes, so I would include Mr. Piletti in my prayers, whispering, “Also, God, please make Mr. Piletti stop beating his wife in the face, because Mom says he’s gonna go to hell, which means that so will we.”
In the city, the four of us kids were always together, not just because our house was small and we had no choice, but because when we were small, we weren’t given any. My mother only had one goddamn set of eyes, two hands, for chrissakes, and four bloody kids. So stick together, she’d say, don’t you ever, ever let go of my hand. And don’t let go of each other’s, either, she’d say, or I’ll kill you. There was all that traffic and those perverts and the crowds to contend with. And always a lot left for her to do before the day was out.
In the city, the four of us kids were all the same people. We had the same bodies, the same moods, and the same ideas. For ten years, we had the same parents, who did and said the same things to each other and us. It was the only time in our lives when we could pretend to be like everyone else, which I came to believe was the gift of the city. In the city, it’s difficult to stand out, unless you were like my mother. But her uniqueness was an accident of birth, and completely unintentional, which was true with us, too, but we just didn’t realize it at the time.
I remember being small enough that the first things I saw when my mom entered the room were her dirty pink slippers. I got bigger and it was her knees, scabbed and puckered. Then bigger, and there’s me grabbing her macramé belt and my little brother’s hand as we’d scramble across a busy street because my mother was the type who never crossed at the lights.
Then, church became my measuring stick. At first I couldn’t kneel, as I wouldn’t be able to see Father Pete or the pretty hats. Then my chin fit perfectly over the back of the pew in front of me. Soon after, all the prayers and songs were in my head, permanently, despite the fact that I don’t remember anyone putting them there on purpose. I don’t know how old I was when I realized I could not legally marry Jesus, but one day it, too, became something I knew for a fact.
In the city, buildings got built around us or torn down. Nothing ever seemed finished. And unlike God on the seventh day, no one stood back from the city and said, “There, I’m done.” But after our seventh year in the city, our neighborhood began to treat my mother like it was done with her. When that happens, I’ve learned, there’s nothing left to do but leave.
My mother told me that ever since she was little she knew she was going to have four kids. All boys. Other people are born with moles or left-handedness, but my mother said she was born with the knowledge that she would have four boys. For proof, she showed us her high school yearbook. Under her graduation picture, next to “Future Plans,” it says, “Mother to the Four Tops (only white).” Someone had written next to it: “Sure, Nan, we’ll see about that. [Signed] Johnny Mathis.”
My mother’s name was Nancy Maria Franco.
Back then, Johnny Mathis and being Catholic were her hobbies. In fact, she came up with the names for her four boys in Sunday school: Matthew, Mark, Luke, then John–to be called Johnny, because of her favorite singer. It was there, in Sunday school, that she first fell in love with a boy. Also, in Sunday school, she got into deep religious debates with her younger sister, my auntie Linda, about who was a sexier Jesus, Max von Sydow or Jeffrey Hunter. This debate continued well into my own childhood, my mother sometimes opting for the Jesus on my Bible, who looked to be a calmer type of hippie, and not like the long-haired American kids we’d see dancing naked on the TV. My mother would watch them for a second, roll her eyes, and switch the channel. Though she was around the same age as they were, she always said, “Know who has time to be a hippie? Bored, rich people, that’s who. And me, I’m neither.”
One of the first stories I memorized about my mother was how she met my dad. It was at her church, Most Precious Blood. Grandpa had forced my mother and her sister to attend Italian mass, after the both of them slept through the earlier English one. They had been out late the night before, celebrating Auntie Linda’s eighteenth birthday. My mom noticed the back of my dad’s head, liked his black curly hair, and the way he swayed during hymns. My auntie Linda noticed that my dad kept turning around to stare at my mother.
After the service, the church was holding the annual Giovanni Caboto Day picnic. Normally they never went, but to spite my grandpa, my mother and my aunt stayed and mingled with the other Italians. Someone whispered to my mom that my dad and his family had come from a particularly war-torn part of Italy. The DiNapolis, they said, arrived with almost nothing except the clothes on their back and nobody spoke very much English, even though they’d been in this country for more than a year. My mom was Italian, too, but in name only. She never learned to speak a word of the language, because what for? This is not the Old Country, my grandpa Franco would say. His own family had left Italy a thousand million years earlier, so my mother’s only Italian legacy was a vowel at the end of her name. And as her father continually pointed out, nobody gave them a thing when they moved here. Nothing. Sure, my mother’s mother, when she was alive, cooked spaghetti, but she served it with Ragú. She used vegetable oil, never olive oil, as it was too expensive. Same with prosciutto. Baloney was good enough. And she passed these fine family traditions down to her two Italian-in-name-only daughters.
My aunt said when my mother finally spoke to my dad, she knew those two would marry. But she knew it in a bad way. A way that made her nauseous and hot-faced. My mother felt the same and told my aunt that she had to sit down a lot while they were dating. Everyone was nice to my dad when he started to come around, but Auntie Linda was disappointed in my mother. Not that she didn’t want her sister to fall in love and have children, but not right now, with this all-wrong man. He was a construction worker, not a businessman. He lived with his parents, and he hadn’t learned to drive.
The bank where my aunt and my mother had just started to work was on the bottom floor of the second tallest building in downtown Detroit. But the big plans the two sisters had had about moving into the very tallest one simply began to vanish.
Meet the Author
Lisa Gabriele’s work has appeared on the CBC, The History Channel, and The Life Network. Her writing has appeared in Vice Magazine, The New York Times Magazine, Washington Post, and Nerve magazine.
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