SHEPHERD AVENUE by Charles Carillo


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Carillo's debut proves once again that nothing is inevitable but death, taxes, and Italian-American coming-of-age-in-Brooklyn novels featuring indomitable matriarchs, male bonding, and much hearty eating. It's the summer of 1961, rites-of-passage time for narrator Joey Ambrosio, a shy 10-year-old Long Island boy whose mother has just died from cancer. His father, Sal, is too broken up to think of anything but flight, and thus leaves Joey in the tough East New York section of Brooklyn with the Ambrosio clan--Grandmother Connie, Grandfather Angie, young Uncle Vic--while he travels around the country exorcising his wife's ghost. For Joey (who takes piano lessons and has never even heard of the Dodgers), the culture shock is seismic: here he is stranded among people who say things like ""Shut up already !"" and habitually consume twice their weight in pasta. Fortunately, he's befriended by a captivating local tomboy named Carmella ""Mel"" DiGiovanna, who teaches him stickball and how to swear like a real street kid; he's regressing along nicely when the two of them are caught playing doctor and Mel is banished from the neighborhood, never to return. The rest of the novel documents Joey's growing friendship with Grandfather Angle--they putter in the garden and raise chickens together--and his series of clashes with the formidable Connie, who hated his mother (an Irish girl who'd had the nerve to steal her eldest son) but wants to crush Joey with love. When Angie dies of a heart attack and Sal returns from wandering, Connie and the boy decide to bury the hatchet: ""You and me, Joseph, it's wrong for us to be enemies."" Carillo has a good ear and introduces some charming minor characters, but overall provides little of the kind of freshness and vitality that would be needed to make Shepherd Avenue more than standard issue from a tired sub-genre.

Pub Date: March 14th, 1986
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly--dist. by Little, Brown