Email this review


Nine vivid, earthy stories of troubled, noisy Italian families in Newark, N.J.--sometimes slipping over the edge from gritty, colloquial naturalism into the grand guignol of psychopathology. In the title piece, Mary Catalucci, supremely content with husband and kids, insists on bouncing back after the shattering accidental death of son Peter; the rest of her family, however, violently resists this upbeat stoicism--and so will some readers, since Campos-De Metro describes it in drippy, pseudo-Saroyanesque metaphors. (""So she rolled up the sleeves of that heart and it came out slugging."") Also meant to be inspiring, With only half-successful results, is the rebirth of 57-year-old widow Vera, ""on a solo flight to the unknown"" with her new freedom--discovering lust, scorning long-term attachments. But most of the vignettes are much grimmer in intent: a young widow's lucky acquisition of a new Mr. Right, who turns out to have a serious, kinky drawback; a fat woman conditioned to abuse by a violent father; an old man, recalling his long-dead son and their shared, dead dream of dancing careers; a girl with guilt-ridden, conflicting feelings about her charismatic, dope-addict brother; the aging leader of a part-time, small-time rock band, who quits when success (but a supporting role) looms. And the longest tale is ""The Grape's Vine, The Horse's Mouth""--about the intense relationship between young Brian and his bitter, tough grandmother, whose independent spirit is symbolized by her vicious pet monkey Auntie Ida-Jean. . . and who dies (by monkeysuicide?) rather than be trundled into a nursing home. Here, as elsewhere through the collection, Campos-De Metro avoids sentimentality through the raucous language of all concerned: Brian's Nana is no sweet old lady but a formidable enemy who heaps abuse on her offspring. (""I raised a snot and called it a son. You're a disgrace, the way you talk to your mother. They should fall off from between, the way you talk to your mother."") So, though none of these pieces is entirely successful, with too many of them reading like dramatized clinical cases, Campos-De Metro makes a distinctive debut--through the shrewdly observed Newark details, the explosive yet credible dialogue, and (except when straining for effect) the street-cadenced, plain-talking narration.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1984
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich