Tearjerker novelist Hood (Ruby, 1998, etc.) sits down to flip through her family album in this sentimental account of her father’s battle with cancer.
“The day my father was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer, I decided to go and find him a miracle.” Many Italian-Americans will see nothing ironic in the author’s tone, inhabiting as they do a world in which supernatural grace is seen to be only somewhat less accessible than fresh figs or decent ricotta cheese. Hood set out on her errand with a good deal of self-consciousness, however. For one thing, she is only half-Italian (her father was a Baptist from the Midwest). For another, she had put most of that old-time religion behind her when she grew up, went to college, became a writer, married a Protestant, and moved into the American mainstream. But all the old stories (of curses, evil eyes, healing potions, and miraculous statues) were still stowed away in the dimmer recess of her imagination, and in the twilight of her father’s illness they began to shine with an unfamiliar new light. So she set off on a series of pilgrimages—first to find a cure, and later (after her father died in spite of her efforts) to find an answer. Some of the places she describes (e.g., Mont-St. Michel, Chartres, Lourdes) will be familiar ground for most readers, but others (El Santuario de Chimayo, New Mexico) are a good deal more obscure, and some (like the Massachusetts town where a comatose girl has developed a large cult as a “victim soul”) are downright creepy. The final pilgrimage, to her mother’s ancestral village in Italy, seems an appropriate site to wrap up the action, but it doesn’t really succeed in imparting much shape to what is a basically formless, if diverting, tale.
At once pointless and moving, Hood’s narrative is too sketchy and diffuse to come into any sort of clear focus—which becomes an annoyance in the end, despite many fine vignettes.