I’d just finished this huge nine hundred page book (possibly the longest I’d ever read) after letting it sit on my shelf for over a year. I’d bought it from a charity shop after the title and the blurb caught my eye, as I’m interested in stories about male characters overcoming personal tragedies and dealing with emotional issues, especially novels from male authors and made this one an anomaly.
The style and themes reminded me of other post-war American novels about troubled adolescence, Catcher in the Rye or The Bell Jar. The prose had a colloquial ‘gritty’ grittiness and the characters of Jack Nicholson in The Shining, One Flew Over The Cuckoos and Tim Robbins in Shawshank Redemption. Stories about loneliness, violence, childhood memories and the abusive fathers in Stand By Me.
An american author who I’ve read and dealt with similar themes of history, grief and redemption is the Vietnam veteran Tim O’Brien and his novels Going After Cacciato, The Things They Carried and If I die in a Combat. Which in turn combines the emotional contradictions of masculinity in adolescence a backdrop of the war campaign filled with alienation and conflict which the men fail to understand or accept.
It’s a daunting nine hundred pages, and one I’d chosen to read as much for this reason as to try to understand what the novel was about. After finishing it over a several weeks, I’d felt it wasn’t a novel, that despite it’s scope with rivals Jeffrey Eugene’s Middlesex in scale, that it’s neat ending contained a level of depth and meaning which you would expect. The central character Domenico, although he goes through a lot of problems and is forced to confront his bitter past so he that he can finally heal himself, is never really convincing and fails to rise above the mundane melodrama of the reconciliation with his ex-girlfriend and abusive father as its final resolution. His friends and family resemble eccentric caricatures, and although I found it moving when Domenico takes his hated stepfather to see the Little Mermaid, the dialogue narrative is so low key and trite to the point you wondered what would’ve happened between them had they seen Forrest Gump, and observe a mawkish reflection of their own insecure masculinity.
Overall the book was enjoyable, blackly funny during the scenes with Domenico’s schizophrenic brother, but not funny enough to be interesting or justify its length. I didn’t understand the need to include the full 200 pages of his grandfather’s turbulent life story from growing up in Sicily and later life in New York with his troubled marriage. The whole story section seems like an unnecessary and demonstrative effort by the author to make the novel seem longer and more complex, suddenly the novel switched from What’s Eating Gilbert Grape ? to Once Upon a Time In America. Because the novel reminded me of so many American films, I could help but draw comparisons to those titles I’ve already mentioned, and it was no surprise to learn that in 2008 there were talks in Hollywood of adapting it to the big screen.