More slices of Italian immigrant life and heritage from Drue-Heinz winner Bernardi.
An earlier collection (In the Gathering Woods, 2000) introduced several of the characters who figure in Bernardi’s second novel. Around the turn of the last century, Imola, a wife and mother in Ardonlà, a Northern Italian mountain village, supplements her family’s income by transporting unwanted infants to convents for adoption by wealthy families. Ultimately, she succumbs to the catatonia that has afflicted her female ancestors. Her brother Egidio and his friend Antenore, who nursed a childhood crush on Imola, emigrate to New Mexico to work as coalminers. Egidio is killed in a 1913 mine disaster, after Antenore departs for Colorado to organize miners. When Antenore returns to Italy to find Imola confined to an insane asylum, he meets and marries lovely redhead Desolina and the couple settle in Chicago, where Antenore becomes a prosperous stonemason. Their son Ray, a successful but conflicted traveling salesman, his wife Rina and their children Adele, Michael and Theresa lead a suburban middle-class existence complicated by squabbling, ever-encroaching relatives and Rina’s brush with cancer and subsequent hospitalization for depression. Rina’s mother, Adalgisa, is an alcoholic and Rina may have inherited Imola’s family curse: Her father, Ettore, a landscaper at a country club, is Imola’s nephew. Bernardi’s strengths are her ear for dialogue and her ability to articulate characters’ emotions. However, with the voices of seven principals and many other points-of-view, the narrative threads fail to tie together, leaving only a loose pastiche of linked stories. A tendency to over-explicate serpentine family ties and to circumvent pivotal action with (albeit beautifully rendered) impressionistic strokes further slackens the pace.
Bernardi is a prodigious talent, but this time she attempts to do too much.