AN ITALIAN WIFE by Ann Hood

AN ITALIAN WIFE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A century in the life of an extended Italian-American family.

Hood’s collection of linked stories begins in a small Italian village with Josephine, just 14. Suddenly married by family arrangement to pig-nosed, portly Vincenzo Rimaldi, she suffers a rude wedding night, but when Vincenzo leaves for America, she reverts back to childhood for nine more years, running barefoot in the Campanian hills—until her husband sends for her (“Salute”). Vincenzo works in a mill, and Josephine, a toil-worn housewife in an Italian Rhode Island neighborhood, bears seven children. The last of these is Valentina, the product of an all-too-brief interlude with a blond iceman. Telling Vincenzo the baby died in the hospital, Josephine gives Valentina up for adoption but never stops searching for her (“The Summer of Ice”). Sex and sexual mores are a major throughline. Josephine’s son Carmine, shellshocked in World War I, finds peace only by masturbating to memories of a young Russian war widow he met in Coney Island (“Coney Island Dreams). Lovely Josephine and her daughter Elisabetta, who wants to be a scientist, are preyed upon by the handsome parish priest, Father Leone, who partially atones by doing favors for the family, such as arranging the above adoption (“War Prayers”). Grandchild Francesca is both repelled and charmed when the community sends their meager riches to Mussolini. Her ticket out of Little Italy could be a blond boy in a fast car (“Dear Mussolini”). Later, we see her, a World War II widow, striving for social acceptance in a mostly Protestant subdivision, which, paradoxically, she achieves only by becoming the neighborhood homewrecker (“Husbands”).  In the '70s, great-grandchild Aida longs to lead a Rat Pack lifestyle in Las Vegas like her cousin Cammie (“Crooning with Dino”) and later escapes to San Francisco (“The Boy on the Bus”). Spot-on pop-culture references telegraph time and place. A few stories are marred by overly gimmicky endings, but the last two, about missed connections, are freighted with pathos.

A soulful and multilayered book from this accomplished author.

Pub Date: Sept. 2nd, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-393-24166-2
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 2014




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