More corny Italian fare from Prior pursues the mystifying disappearance of a Roman embalmer’s husband.
Prior (Nectar, 2002, etc.) heaps together a jumble of prosaic details and characters, then prays for a novel here. There are six pages of mostly irrelevant, melodious names in the “cast.” Young Freda Lippi, née Castro, a Roman embalmer, returns home one Saturday afternoon (laden with plucked chicken, pancetta, broad beans, etc.) to find that her ventriloquist husband of three years, Alberto, has been seized and their flat ransacked. Freda never liked Alberto, whom she met on a cruise won as a prize through Mortician’s Monthly magazine, but she married him because of her mother’s prophetic dying words: “I see a ventriloquist. . . .” Actually, Freda is more aggrieved at the disappearance of her parrot Pierino. In a long flashback, she recounts the last day of her mother’s life, in 1965, when Freda was 16, and they all took off for a ride to the beach in Uncle Birillo’s new Oldsmobile Cutlass: glamorous Mamma, a famous singer; Freda’s imperious older sister, Fiamma, who was driving; and Freda. A terrible accident left Mamma embedded in a palm tree, dead; Fiamma went on to become a successful midlevel civil servant of predatory repute, and young Freda apprenticed herself to the embalmer who reconfigured her mother’s ravaged face. Back in the present, Freda flirts with the attractive detective on the case of her disappeared Alberto, who performed on Saturdays at the Berenice cabaret club, where Freda gets a brief job as a hat girl. But there’s only a halfhearted attempt to find out what happened to Alberto; in fact, the mystery is never satisfactorily solved. Prior is clearly more interested in the quirky gags of her loopy Italians—dating, cooking, collecting Mamma’s stolen teeth and so forth. Is this adorable—or inane?