Menapace (Letting Go of Mama, 2011) crafts a coming-of-age story that builds slowly but unfolds profoundly.
With a carefully balanced mix of harsh earnestness and dry humor, Jasper Windsock Jr. tells the story of his lifelong friend and occasional rival, Ramedio Kunstler. The bulk of the drama, which develops over the course of the 20th century in Pennsylvania’s coal country, derives from bitter, generations-old feuds among the Italian immigrant families that populate the Valhalla area. Reputations and political alliances are of the utmost importance, but in his early days, these issues seem to be of no concern to Ramedio. After tragically witnessing his father’s suicide, Ramedio is raised by his mentally unstable mother, Ramona, and his intelligent, if heavy-handed, stepfather, Dr. Walter Kunstler. Ramedio develops a love for music at an early age and, in his teenage years, decides that he and his band, Ramedio and the Rangers, are destined for stardom. But before the Rangers can really take off, he gets 17-year-old Martina Cardinelli pregnant. Following the demands of his stepfather, Ramedio marries Martina and is instantly embraced by her family; he loves Martina and feels more loved by her family than his own. However, none of this can last in their spiteful, clan-based society. The Kunstlers and Cardinellis clash while Ramedio struggles to make enough money as a musician. In the ultimate tragedy, Martina falls completely out of love with Ramedio. As Ramedio tries in vain to regain the love of his wife, Windsock recalls all the heartbreaking details. The events that follow, with Ramedio fleeing the town and returning to his music, are rendered with a surrealistic style and an air of irreverence that serve as a welcome release from the tense preceding chapters. The novel’s first half unfolds at a slower pace, but that proves to be Menapace setting the stage for the extremely gratifying series of resolutions, and nonresolutions, that follow.
Well-crafted and honest.