Misurella (Lies to Live By, 2005) portrays the struggles of two Italian families, the Salvaggis and the Maresciallos, as they strive to find their place in America, from the busy streets of New York to hardscrabble life in rural Pennsylvania.
At an Italian wedding in 1960s Pennsylvania, Sonny Salvaggi meets Margo, a young woman who captures his heart. Young Margo had fallen in love with Jack Maresciallo, whose wandering, artistic ways lead to trouble for her and their son, Marcello. Later, Jack attempts to reunite with his son, bringing the families together again as they rehash old loves, losses and a quarry business. A study in ancestry, both familial and cultural, each character lurches under the weight of what it means to be from a particular line and place. Relationships and connections dominate the story, and rich back stories of family secrets, tensions and obsessions motivate each character, giving rise to plenty of drama. At one point, Jack, speaking of meeting Marcello for the first time in a decade, feels that “his love for the boy was…wrapped up with shame,” and in many ways, this sentiment sums up all of the relationships in the book, as characters try to rise above or avoid their mistakes and find new ways of relating. Despite these rich motivations, it can be slightly difficult to tell the characters apart, and the story’s tendency to jump across time can be confusing. The dialogue is sometimes clunky, with characters stating their motivations perhaps too clearly and readily to be entirely realistic. Nevertheless, the author’s knowledge of and engagement with Italian-American history shines through, and readers interested in the Italian-American experience will find plenty to appreciate.
Thoughtful and readable; sure to please fans of family sagas.