Blue Italian

Blue Italian

by Rita Ciresi


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780385319409
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 11/28/1997
Pages: 287
Product dimensions: 7.54(w) x 10.27(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

Rita Ciresi is the author of Mother Rocket, which won the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction, and the novels Pink Slip and Blue Italian. She lives with her husband and daughter in Florida.

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 different gradations 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.

Reading Group Guide

1. What makes Gary want to believe in God — even though it's hard for him? Why does Rosa believe in God without really trying?

2. Although Rosa and Gary are rarely romantic in the traditional sense, there's a lot of love in their relationship. Why is humor their main form of communication?

3. Why do you think Gary decided to die in the hospital instead of at home?


The questions, discussion topics, and author biography that follow are intended to enhance your reading of Rita Ciresi's Blue Italian.

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Blue Italian 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
After reading the blurbs I expected to read a touching story about the relationship between a husband and wife and the difficulties that arise when an illness is diagnosed. I instead found this story and its characters emotionless, shallow and immature. I was bored through most of the book. A much better read on a similar topic is P.S. I Love You by Cecelia Ahern.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read Pink Slip, Ciresi's second book for a bookclub and loved it, so I wanted to read her first one, too. I could not put it down. I laughed out loud and then I cried out loud and had to take a break before I could finish it. Can't wait for book number 3. I love how she writes!!! Most entertaining!! Does she have a fan club?
Guest More than 1 year ago
Although there are some extended passages that are poignant and others that are quite humorous, overall the love/hate story and its main characters do not ring true. Most disturbing was the author's strange use of standard Italian words (and then, often, not spelling them correctly) to give ethnic emphasis. Trouble is the characters she depicts would be using SOUTHERN Italian dialect words, not Tuscan ones. Me thinks the author never paid much attention to her own Southern Italian ancestors' speech but took a college Italian course and lazily used what she learned in it to make non-Italics think she was presenting accurate dialogue.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved this book!! It made me laugh and cry. I really enjoyed how different each character was and their relationship with their family. I highly recommend it!