In Cecere’s debut novel, two friends, both the offspring of immigrants, grow up in Pittsburgh during the waning years of the Depression and choose very different paths in an America riddled with prejudice.
In 1926, the eponymous Avenue is a two-mile stretch of road in Pittsburgh that demarcates the Italian enclave of the city. The houses are close together, poverty is a constant, the steel mill and the railroad are the major employers, and strong family ties and traditions hold it all together. Everybody knows everybody else, and it’s within these comforting but sometimes-suffocating confines that Donato “Danny” Castle Forte and Francis “Frankie” Collizio are born and raised. Frankie belongs to the street; it’s the source of his inner strength, his external power, and his rise to prominence within the local mob. He’s never confused about who he is or where he belongs. But the novel belongs to Danny, who’s conflicted about his identity and whose aspirations stretch far beyond the Avenue. He’s driven to put the limitations imposed by his Italian heritage behind him, and each decision he makes is designed to separate him further from his roots. Unlike Frankie, however, he never really fits in anywhere, despite his efforts, and at times, he seems to exist in an emotional vacuum. Debut author Cecere makes an impressive entrance with this poignant, character-driven novel. His generally fluid prose occasionally displays a raw grittiness, as in chilling passages that describe World War II battle scenes or the brutality toward African-Americans on the Avenue. Also, his portrayal of the immigrant and first-generation Italian experience is illuminating. However, he also has a confusing tendency to speed up the story’s timeline, sometimes within a single chapter. Although the 1930s and ’40s settings are clearly identifiable, there are minimal cultural reference points to enrich the background in the following decades. Most of the salient action takes place in the earlier years, so these final chapters feel a bit rushed—more like summary than narrative.
A lingering, often engaging tale about choices and consequences, despite its inconsistent pacing.