“You have to tend to family like you tend to a garden,” writes Castellani (The Saint of Lost Things, 2005, etc.) in his third literary effort.
Matriarch Maddalena, “reporting and worrying and complaining and negotiating,” needs more care than any other flower in the Grasso family garden. Maddalena is 70-something, still beautiful, still grieving over the death of her first-born son, Tony, and very much the axis of life for husband Antonio, daughter Prima and son Francesco. Antonio is semiretired from his successful restaurant. Prima is well-married to prosperous Tom Buckley and mother of four strapping sons. Much to Maddalena’s distress, Frankie, born after Tony’s death, is a grad student in faraway Boston, “building additions to the sprawling mansion of his dissertation with the zeal of Bob Vila.” There is a certain equilibrium, even though Tony's death was a suicide that left behind guilty secrets in the hearts of Antonio and Prima. Then, Prima uses the celebration of her youngest son’s religious confirmation to announce she has bought tickets for the entire family for a sojourn to her parents’ ancestral village, Santa Cecilia in Italy. Maddalena angrily dismisses the gift. Refusing to voice her objection, she fears returning to see the beauty of her youth ripped away by reality and to again meet Vito, her first love. Layered over this family conflict are other, more serious catastrophes. Prima and her youngest are seriously injured in an auto accident, an incident that turns her from nurturing and devoted to bitter and angry. Then, Maddalena begins a rapid descent into “old timer’s.”
Castellani writes movingly, affectingly of immigrant life, of the dichotomy of cultures, of the persistence of love across generations.