Pennisi’s novel provides an emotional twist on a New York mob tale.
The book follows the lives of one family: Michael Parisi, a Sicilian-American boy growing up in Red Hook, Brooklyn; his father, Giuseppe, who struggles to shield the family from his Mafia involvement; and Michael’s grandfather, Salvatore, a rich baron in Sicily facing power struggles of his own. Though these three men revolve in and out of each other’s lives, they share the responsibilities of family and the code of organized crime. Pennisi (The Prince of Sackett Street, 1989) paints a vivid picture of Mafia-controlled Red Hook and the shifting allegiances and double-dealings that make the Mafia such a potent force there. Michael struggles with life as a Mafioso—he finds and loses love, contends with violence and attempts to extricate himself from the Mafia without abandoning his family and his heritage. The three primary characters battle with the brutality of their lives and fight to maintain their allegiances to each other and their neighborhood. Pennisi, who grew up in the area, is clearly passionate about the subject matter, and his references to the era, locale and Sicilian and Italian-American customs lend authenticity. The book is strongly anchored in its culture and geography, but it can feel forced at times, and the characters aren’t entirely fleshed-out. Nevertheless, the players’ homesickness, frustration and fear as they try to escape violence are palpable. Shifts in chronology can sometimes be confusing, but it’s perhaps a necessity of the scope of the narrative. Pennisi has set himself a large task, and he covers a lot of ground admirably.
An earnest portrait of the brutal life of a mid-level crime family.