An eclectic, even eccentric collection—poems, fiction, and essays—by Americans of Italian heritage.
Tonelli (The Amazing Story of the Tonelli Family in America, 1994) is a wise guy—not in The Sopranos sense but in the old-fashioned smartass way that must have annoyed his schoolteachers. “If Philip Roth had been one of ours,” he quips, “his grandmother would have chopped him up and buried the pieces under her tomato plants.” This tone pervades the selections as well. Arranged thematically (Home, Mom, Death, etc.), the pieces feature the well known (Don DeLillo, John Ciardi, Jay Parini, Richard Russo, Philip Caputo, Dana Gioia) and the lesser known (Luigi Funaro, Beverly Donofrio, Lucia Perillo, and a host of others). There are also selections by Evan Hunter and Ed McBain, although the editor’s notes do not reveal that they are the same person. Tonelli also neglects to tell us which pieces are fiction, which nonfiction, so readers who wonder will have to research it themselves. Many of the pieces are touching or instructive or fun to read. Ciardi’s poem about his mother is poignant, as is Parini’s about his grandmother. Kim Addonizio contributes a hot little poem about sex, and Pat Jordan writes with emotion about a pool game between him and his 76-year-old father. Ray Romano waxes wise about his unconventional Dad, and John Fante’s excerpt reminds us why we should no longer neglect his wonderful work. Mike Lupica catches us up with former baseball star Tony Conigliaro, whose heart attack sentenced him to a wheelchair. Maria Laurino offers a first-rate memoir about Versace, Armani—and her mother, arbiter of style in Laurino’s youth. Gregory Corso’s poem about baldness will get a laugh: “Best now to get a pipe / and forget girls,” he sighs.
Perfect for the nightstand, along with a sliver of cannoli and some decaf espresso.