In this debut novel, the title character turns out to be a handsome, slim, tough, good-natured, but short-tempered Italian immigrant machinist in 1930s America.
A hardworking newcomer with a love of drink and women, Felicissimo, aka “Fee,” finds himself in a terrible predicament. After a barroom fistfight with a bigger foe named Jimmy O’Toole, Fee is the prime suspect in the man’s subsequent death. Despite the fact that the real killer is Fee’s own brother Michelangelo and that the machinist would have an alibi if his so-called friend Johnny stood up for him, the protagonist understands how things will really proceed for an immigrant accused of murder in the Depression-era U.S.—so he decides to go on the run. He figures the police will “make up their mind justthatquick, then lock me up and throw the key away.” Fee hits the road and leaves Cincinnati, making his way to the frigid little town of Trump, on the border of West Virginia and Maryland (“You’re right smack next to God’s country,” a truck driver tells him). Once Fee arrives in Trump, he has too big a personality to genuinely “lie low,” and his picaresque misadventures continue until the forces of the law threaten to catch up with him. Koh’s text is ambitious: the entire story is told in short chapters by a rotating group of first-person narrators, including Fee. All the narrators have their own phonetically spelled accents and patois (but with a fair degree of similarity across characters), and old-fashioned slang and references are freely used throughout. The result is an intriguing tale that can be challenging to follow at points, both due to the language and because all of the narrators are extremely opinionated and freely express their own biases in every situation. The characters are a curious mixture of realistic traits and bold stereotypes, showing depth at some points and broad, facile strokes at others. The dialogue is musical, if idiosyncratic (“Him standin’ there wid ’em droppy ol’ lids watchin’ me like I’m some kinda pitcher show, no wonder I was high and outside that time”). The pacing is fast, but the small scale of the story makes it seem slower. A lot happens but nothing to shake the world—only to disrupt Fee’s universe.
An absorbing but unpolished fugitive tale.