All of the books on this list are great, but it’s a sure sign of a bumper crop year when a new Alice Munro is down at #9!
Christopher Castellani’s third novel is a beautifully evocative examination of a family greatly affected by a past tragedy and their ethnic culture. Antonio and Maddalena Grasso came to America from Santa Cecila, Italy fifty years ago. Together they had three children, but lost one tragically years ago. Now their remaining children and grandchildren have each formed a family construct based on their individual experiences, while Antonio and Maddalena each deal with their personal grief in solitary ways.
The novel examines the complicated ways people love, as stated in the book, from the heart, from the head and from the soul. With Maddalena, who was in love with another boy before Antonio and Maddalena’s father arranged their marriage, love is compartmentalized, coupled with a need to cut herself off completely from her heritage, ignoring letters and calls to her family back in Italy. When her daughter Prima tries to arrange a trip for the entire family to travel back to Santa Cecila, all are taken aback by the ferocity of Maddalena’s refusal. Youngest son Frankie has moved from the family’s Delaware roots to write his thesis at Boston College. He is a lost soul, eschewing maturity for a dysfunctional sexual relationship with his adviser, and a relationship with his mother that can’t move past childhood.
Couple all of these mini family dramas with Maddalena’s health challenges and you’d think All This Talk of Love would echo the soap opera that Frankie and Maddalena discuss every day. But Castellani’s exploration lifts the story above melodramatics and creates flawed and real characters struggling with long ago grief and the complicated love of family.
Alice Munro, the master of the modern short story, continues to show her prodigious talent in her latest collection entitled Dear Life. Each story illuminates a life at a pivotal moment and who this moment affects its subject. Dear Life also includes a series of four memories from the author life; structured as short stories, they are mini-memoirs, colored by memory and creativity, yet illuminating the way each of her stories are.
Many of the stories in Dear Life are set in the post WWII era of Canada, and the memory of the way and the Depression infuse them. One story in particular, “Leaving Maverley,” highlights the power of Munro’s storytelling, where with a simple sentence; a reflection of what has gone on before, Munro is able to bring the reader to tears.