A gutsy, resonant, and tender tale about an Italian-American family in New Jersey--whose Old-Country, poverty-sharpened family allegiances offer both warmth and danger to a young boy as he grows up. At eight, a bemused, loving Nick observes the family grownups, weaving and scraping together like giant barrage balloons: ""Babbo"" Gavetti, Nick's volcanic old grandfather, still cherishes a pebble from Italy, makes his own gut-killer wine, and busts through the as he busts through the English language; Grandmother Lisa, scolding Babbo, hugging Nick, rules a clattering kitchen; Uncle Nino, ""a grinning, winking man with broken fingers and scraped hands,"" deals in odd lots--from 1920s golf sticks to thousands of dolls; sleek Uncle Tony Lapiso is a lawyer whose ""union"" business seems to be making an awful lot of money. And while Nick's non-Italian father Joe Hart (gaunt, taciturn) is often away, Nick's mother Mary lives over Tony's office (where she works) and Nick is at home at Babbo's--especially at Christmas. But the passing seasons bring Nick intimations of loss: faint mementos of his Grandfather Hart; the grave visit to his dead baby sister; another Christmas, but at Uncle Tony's new mansion in the country (no pasta, no traditional place at the table for Babbo's dead son Marco). Then Babbo himself dies. And as the old neighborhood decays, the auras surrounding Dad and uncles thin to reveal some sinister realities--while the family's promising move to the country launches Nick into isolation and despair, his new school and a girl-friend only highlighting the pressure of spoken (and unspoken) familiar responsibilities. Finally, then, in an act of love and death, with new and terrible knowledge of his father's years of anguish, Nick validates a legacy of love and honor. A rich, sensitive, and fiercely touching novel--with both a kitchen-stove intimacy and the chill of cherished verities which have wandered out of joint.