A bond formed in adolescence threatens, years later, to tear apart a family as Giardina’s latest novel (Recent History, 2001, etc.), meaty and multi-faceted, evolves into a loose-knit murder mystery.
Narrator Timmy O’Kane grew up in Winship, “the last white town in greater Boston,” in the ’70s. As the lone Irish guy, he hung out with a bunch of Italians led by butcher’s son Billy Mogavero; Timmy admired his cool, even after Billy assaulted a friendly cop and did jail time. While Billy stays in Winship in a nothing job, the others move out and up; Timmy marries money (Teresa, another Italian), acquires a spacious home in a pastoral hamlet and fathers two daughters. He stays in touch with his old buddies, and has long, boozy conversations with Billy by the ocean, at night. “I played a game with darkness,” Timmy admits. The central weakness of this often terrific novel is Giardina’s failure to define the power of Billy’s appeal or the reasons for Timmy’s enduring susceptibility; the homoerotic aspect of the friendship goes almost unremarked. The darkness arrives. Billy is married by now, to Patty, a tough cookie from the projects. On a visit back there, a gunman kills pregnant Patty, who loses the baby, while Billy, also shot, survives. Witnesses put a black man at the crime scene. (Billy had been fooling around with a married black woman—maybe the husband was seeking revenge?) Then Billy’s retarded brother shows up at Timmy’s place and, without explanation, leaves a gun; Timmy buries it in the woods. Is it possible Billy himself was the shooter? Timmy catches hell once his wife and father-in-law learn about the gun. Giardina keeps us on edge about the fate of the marriage as well as the identity of the killer. Only at the end, when Timmy behaves like a helpless jackass, does the credibility slip.
An ambitious novel that touches nimbly on issues of race and class while charting expertly the minefield of family life.