A short story collection, primarily starring Italian-American Charlie Marino, by author Panella (The Other Side: Growing up Italian in America, 2012, etc.).
In “Original Sin,” a young Sicilian flees to America in 1900 after killing his abusive father, who deserted his wife and family for another woman. Wealthy and in his 70s, the man returns to Sicily 50 years later, seeking reunion with the love of his life, the girl he abandoned to save himself. This set piece strikes at the heart of the man’s relationship with women, his commitment or lack thereof, and his place in society, sometimes forged in violence. Other stories deal directly with Charlie’s life and liaisons, including the one with Felicia, or “Fell.” Charlie wants to be a writer in spite of rejection, but he’s too lonely to wait for a breakthrough before settling down. Although Charlie and Fell have a child, their marriage does not last. Women anticipate Charlie’s infidelity, even as he vows to never leave, but his mother, Rose, believes he’s “a good boy.” In “A Symbiotic Relationship,” Charlie snags a teaching job by fabricating a tale of being shot in the leg (during the interview, he drops his pants to display the wound, which was self-inflicted), and is touted on campus as a raconteur. In this collection, women are problematic: “Their sensuality was offset by a cloying desperation, and a need to dominate.” This quietly powerful collection is a welcome exercise in economy—plots, settings and characters are all lightly sketched. Here and there, Charlie’s connections to other characters are unclear. A wistful sadness resonates; happiness, when it comes, is short-lived. At times, the focus shifts to Charlie’s father, Hank, a bar owner who is seldom home, leaving Rose at loose ends. Yet Hank can switch from brute force to soulfulness, as when instructing his son on the deleterious effects of alcohol. Hank’s relationship with women is equally tortured. Reflecting upon life with Rose and another woman, Hank realizes he didn’t get what he wanted—friendship—and he remains baffled about women and love. Like father, like son.
Reflective and melancholy; well-told tales of the Italian-American experience.