The heroine of A Kiss for Maddalena (2003) grows up a lot in Castellani’s second novel.
Seven years after she came to Wilmington, Delaware, with her brand-new husband Antonio Grasso, Maddalena still badly misses her native village, and the family she left behind in war-devastated Italy. But she’s learned to love Antonio, and as the story begins in 1953, she’s finally pregnant for the first time. Antonio flies into a jealous rage; he only half-believes that his beautiful wife has cheated on him with her boss at the clothing factory, but it provides a good excuse to punish her with months of silence for the fact that he’s always found her “unreachable.” Antonio also seethes because, though he yearns to leave the Ford factory and start his own restaurant, he can’t muster the courage to pool his savings with either younger brother Mario or best friend Renato, who both go ahead without him. Castellani makes neither of his principals entirely likable. Maddalena remains annoyingly passive, and Antonio is amazingly self-centered, yet they learn to accommodate each other in a marriage neither would dream of ending. Counterpointing their troubled intimacy is the story of Giulio Fabbri, desperately lonely after the deaths of his parents and, at age 40, still lacking either a job or a wife to cushion the blow. The author excels at capturing the quiet yet absorbing texture of everyday life, the intricate maneuvering among people who love each other but who all have their own agendas. There are a few big events: Renato and his girlfriend (with Antonio’s reluctant help) cruelly harass a black family that dared to move into their Italian neighborhood; Maddalena falls into a coma after her daughter is born prematurely. But the real drama lies in the slow accretion of changes that forge the Grassos into an enduring couple, mostly happy and more or less fulfilled by their far from perfect union.
Not exactly a big romantic finish, but those who appreciate clear-eyed, unsentimental fiction will find its realism fresh and moving.