With her customary wit and pathos, Ciresi (Pink Slip, 1999, etc.) again mines the psyches of women in her first collection: 13 interrelated stories about two sisters growing up in the working-class Italian-American section of New Haven.
Angel and Lina share a room and a childhood, and like immigrant children everywhere, their lives revolve around the family and the neighborhood, their dreams around being, unlike their parents, American. Nine-year-old Angel is the voice, the storyteller, less glamorous than her older sister, more easily controlled, and inevitably, the one their morose and fatalistic mother relates to. She’s the child Mama takes to the butcher shop in “Big Heart,” where Mama haggles over the prices and the free bones for a family dog that doesn’t exist. The father, Babbo, drives a soda truck when he’s working; when he’s not, the sisters go to a public school where “the doors were removed from the bathroom stalls so the girls couldn’t shoot up or get raped.” In other pieces, each more heartfelt than the other, the Lupo sisters attempt to eschew all things Italian, using the English translation of their family name to call themselves “the Wolfs.” Meanwhile, they deal with eccentric relatives: the never-married Zio Gigi, who preys on the lovely Lina; Aunt Pat, “the rotten egg,” who left to live in Greenwich Village with “her lady friend.” Cheap souvenirs pass for decor, homilies pass for advice. “Don’t go looking for trouble,” Mama warns, or “Just remember, crazy girls turn into crazy women.” And how do the Lupo sisters turn out? Lina early on goes for music and boys, Angel retreats to the library. But they remain irreversibly connected, the roots of their upbringing deep, and while both get their piece of the American pie, Mama’s voice in the background is clear: “Be careful what you wish for.”
Classic Italian-American fiction: characters and situations rendered with such skill and honesty, such depth of understanding and feeling, that they are instantly and universally recognizable.