A Greek immigrant in his sunset years takes out a lifetime’s worth of frustrations on his three daughters in this seriocomic debut.
By most measures, Stavros has had a good life in America, successfully launching two New Jersey restaurants and raising three daughters. But the novel opens with an email venting his frustrations with those around him: daughter Stavroula for not adhering to “normal society” (read: she has a girlfriend); daughter Litza for picking up the addictions that consumed his first wife; second wife Carol for, he claims, pitting the two daughters against him. But Stavros is a frustration himself: the “let me explain you” that opens his email tirade signals both his poor grammar and his patriarchal attitude. The early sections of the novel mainly circle on his family’s and friends’ reactions to Stavros’ claim that he will die in 10 days and then on a disappearance that suggests he might do himself in. Liontas carries this story with some carefully tuned humor, recognizing Stavros’ absurdity without allowing him to degrade into a wacky-immigrant cliché. That’s bolstered by the history of Stavros’ upbringing in Crete and his hardscrabble early days in the United States, where Stavroula and Litza are effectively neglected by their overworked father and checked-out mother. Even so, the novel feels at once overstuffed and undercooked, brimming with characters Liontas doesn’t always seem sure what to do with; Stavros’ girlfriend, second wife, and third daughter are unfinished characters, and Litza’s habit of contemplating people via the ailment codes she uses at her job at an insurance company feels more like a writerly gimmick than characterization. Liontas handles Stavros’ final fate gracefully, if a touch abstractly, recognizing the pull that even the most exasperating loved ones have on us in a family.
A tale of an immigrant family rendered with unusual care, though it strains too hard for depth at times.