Renato's Luck: A Novel

Renato's Luck: A Novel

by Jeff Shapiro

Paperback(1ST PERENN)

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060932190
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 07/31/2001
Series: Harper Perennial
Edition description: 1ST PERENN
Pages: 352
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Jeff Shapiro is an American who moved to Italy in 1991. He writes for travel magazines and works as an English instructor in the Tuscany region.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One
Daybreak and the Sheep


The coldness outdoors this morning woke up Renato's brain.

September. Yes, here was a good time of day, a good time of year. In fact, it was Renato Tizzoni's favorite time of year. Autumn was a season of brisk transition.

Renato's work boots clomped down the stone steps in front of his house. The sky was brightening from deep blue to the start of sunlight, pushing stars away. But the air was still dark and chilly inside the courtyard. Renato crossed the courtyard and stopped at the well.

The bucket he lowered into the well disappeared quickly in the blackness. He heard the splash, low and far away. When he hoisted the bucket back up, the metal of the pulley squeaked.

Inside their stall across the courtyard, the sheep heard Renato and responded with impatient movements. One of the sheep had a bell tied around her neck. The bell clank-te-clanked. One sheep went be-e-eh.

“A little patience, please!” Renato told the sheep, talking to the closed wooden door of their stall.

He set the dripping bucket on the ledge of the well and, leaning forward, washed his face with cold handfuls of water.

Renato was the waterworks man for the township of Sant'Angelo D'Asso. It was up to him to make sure that every home always had water. All the same, each morning he splashed himself awake not with the town's water that came through his house's pipes but with the earth's own water, pulleyed up from the courtyard well. Every morning, every season. If you asked him why his first touch of water every day should come from the well, he wouldn't have known how to answer. Who needs toexplain? Well water was part of his every dawn. One of the little things that gave life its taste.

An orange cat lived in the courtyard and in the sheep stalls and in the cellar under the house. The cat policed the mice around the place. He and Renato liked each other. The cat rubbed himself against Renato's ankles now while Renato rinsed his face with well water another time. Renato said, “Micio,” for no one had ever thought to give the cat a name other than the word “kitten.” He bent over and stroked the cat above the nose, just between the eyes. The cat closed his eyes and purred. “Micio,” Renato said.

He walked across the courtyard to open the door for the sheep.

The four sheep pushed one another out of the stall like passengers getting off a hot bus in summer. Four were enough to give Renato the satisfaction of keeping sheep: He made pecorino cheese from their milk. The cheese was at its best, according to his tastebuds, when it was neither too mature nor too fresh. He liked it semi-stagionato, halfway aged, solid yet not hard, salty and tangy in the mouth. Four was the right number for sheep because once you had too many you became a shepherd whether you meant to or not. Renato's little flock was manageable.

Rushing out of their stall this morning, the four stirred up commotion. They bleated. They bumped into one another. Under them, udders bobbed. Hooves tapped on the stones of the courtyard.

Renato went into the stall, the air in there warm with sheep body smells, and made the milking corner ready. He righted the stool and put the metal milking pot on the ground. From a hook on the wall he took down the plastic feed pail. In the adjacent storeroom he filled the feed pail from a sack of grain. Beside the sack were some branches that he had cut from his olive trees. For the sheep, nibbling on olive leaves was a treat.

It was dark in the feed room, but Renato didn't need light to help him fill the feed pail. His hands knew what to do in the same way that his hands didn't need light to touch his wife's body in the dark. The hands knew what was where.

In the stall, Renato settled himself on the milking stool. The feed pail to his left, the milking pot in front of his work boots, Renato scratched his beard. “Ready!” he said.

The first sheep trotted back inside the stall, her bell clanking. She was a character, the first sheep. She was braver than the others, though bravery never amounted to very much in sheep. Renato didn't exactly have a name for the first sheep, or for any of them. He called them by their numbers — la Prima, la Seconda, la Terza, la Quarta — because that was the order they had chosen for themselves. Every morning and evening the spirited Prima was always the first to come into the stall to be milked. The four sheep knew their order as if they knew their own natures.

Prima was a character, all right. Wide-eyed curiosity set her apart from the others. If Renato ever had to be a sheep, he would probably be this one.She put her mouth straight in the feed pail and started to chew, her flank leaning against Renato's knees. He took her udder with his right hand and squeezed with an undulating upward coax. Milk squirted into the pail. The sheep chewed.

When Renato finished, he slapped Prima on her rump. She ran out into the courtyard through the open door.

“Seconda!” Renato called, and, when he had finished with her, “Terza!” The second and the third were creatures of the flock. They gave birth, gave milk, gave wool, chewed grass, and stayed with the others. They never distinguished themselves in life. When they died someday, Renato wouldn't revisit either of them with a nostalgic thought.

The fourth set herself apart, but not with the courage of the first. To the contrary. She was delicate in build. And...

Reading Group Guide


"Mi gusto questo gusto!"
"I want to taste this taste!"

Thirty-eight year-old Renato Tizzoni, in charge of the waterworks in the small Tuscan town of Sant' Angelo D'Asso, has always had a remarkable appetite for life. Indeed, sensual pleasures abound in the lush Italian countryside, from the hard, salty, tangy taste of the peccorino cheese he makes from the milk of his own sheep, to the soft curve of his wife's white neck as she bends down for a kiss.

But as autumn arrives this year, Renato finds his life changing in ways he doesn't want: a government dam project will soon inundate the town, forcing its inhabitants to move; his mentor and surrogate father, Aristodemo Vezzosi, has died; his teenage daughter is turning into a sullen stranger; and a British actress who needed his help at her villa has awakened a desire for a woman other than his beloved wife, Milena. Suddenly the waterworks man finds his taste for life vanishing.

Then Renato, who sees a significance in everything -- from the literal meaning of his own name to the finding of a inscribed water pipe beneath the piazza -- has a strange dream. Its message, as Renato interprets it, is that to change his luck, and that of the entire town, he must shake the Pope's hand while holding his own hand on his ass. Un colpo di culo is what they need: a stroke of ass, a stroke of luck. Who could not use a change of luck? Soon word spreads, and others learn of Renato's dream. He becomes a man with a mission, compiling a list of people who want their fortuna changed, among them the widow Vezzosi who is mourning her husband; his best friend,a broken-hearted American named Duncan; and his assistant Capelli, who makes blaspheming into a literary art.

Yet another sudden death, a surprise confession from his daughter Petula, and an object found while he and his wife take the Italian evening stroll called la passeggiata will have an unexpected impact on Renato's luck as he then begins a wondrous, and hilarious, journey to the Vatican in Rome.

Combining the humor and pathos of Life is Beautiful with the rich sensuality of Like Water for Chocolate, Jeff Shapiro's extraordinary novel portrays a culture that embraces food, beauty, and passion with equal abandon as it resonates with the triumph of the human spirit in the face of death and disappointment. Shapiro's affirmation of life in an impermanent world makes this a fierce, bright gem of tale, set in the special beauty of Tuscany, a place that is more than a geography: it is a gift to the world.

Discussion Questions

  • In the opening chapter Renato spells out what is bothering him most: "How could a whole town just disappear? Why were people disappearing around him? Why did everything have to change? None of it made any sense." What answer does the book give to these questions? Do you find Shapiro's answer satisfying and true?

  • What are some of the qualities of Renato's relationship with his wife? Why is his marriage suddenly in trouble? What is your long-term prediction for their relationship?

  • What is the meaning of Renato's name?

  • Central to the plot of the book is Renato's dream. What do you think of his interpretation of his dream?

  • In the chapter "Culo" he discusses his relationship with water. What are some other things water can symbolize? How does the author's use of symbolism increase the richness of the reading experience of the novel?

  • Daily life and culture in Sant'Angelo D'Asso is much different than that of a typical American's. Discuss some of the differences.

  • One of the most wonderful parts of Renato's Luck is the compilation of his list. Do the sayings fit their character? Which is your favorite, and why? (The entire list is printed in the front of the book).

  • World War II comes up frequently throughout the book. Why? What was its impact on the lives of the people of Sant'Angelo D'Asso? Does the unexploded bomb have any symbolic meaning?

  • What does the final scene of the book say about life? How does the author tie the end of the book to the beginning? Why are the final words "For now"?

  • In the "Author's Note," Jeff Shapiro writes, "You know people better when you write them down." What does he mean?

    About the Author: Jeff Shapiro, who was born and raised near Boston, Massachusetts, moved to Tuscany in 1991. He works as an English instructor in the Tuscany region.

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    Renato's Luck: A Novel 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    This is a genuinely original and charming story of life in a small village. The characters are all unique especially the main character Renato. You understand his integrity and his plight and really hope that all turns out well for these wonderful people.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    Sweet, charming and a change from all the intense stuff around. A tad long, but a nice warm fuzzie read. I just think that the protagonist was a bit young for a mid life crisis.