Figliomeni’s debut novel has shades of memoir, political commentary and transcribed stand-up comedy routines.
After retiring from the New York City fire department, John Campione returns to his hometown and settles in. (Readers might suspect Figliomeni and Campione of being one and the same; the cover photo even shows Figliomeni in firefighting gear.) The first two-thirds of the book are mostly anecdotes from Campione’s growing up in Childs, a real town in northeastern Pennsylvania. There’s plenty of drinking and monkeyshines, crude jokes and horseplay, and assorted family stories. Alas, many readers might consider these anecdotes to be of the “you had to be there” kind. When Campione, talking on the phone with his nephew, says, “Tell me again about the night [your father] and Mickey met the champion boxer Carmen Basilio,” it’s clear that the storytelling flow isn’t exactly fluid. Later, after this—as well as the opinions and comedy routines of “Jack Jimmie,” Campione’s stage persona—there’s a welcome change of direction when Archina Basso, the daughter John never knew, shows up on his doorstep, out for blood. What follows still isn’t detailed or complex enough to be termed a novel, but when they reconcile, it becomes clear that Archina isn’t just out for blood; she needs a kidney. Eventually, those touching final chapters create an appealing story with real emotional effects: Ambushed by the real world, Campione, the eternal adolescent, finally attempts to grow up; too bad that’s so far into the book.
A scattered, unfocused story that may or may not be true.