A DECENT FAMILY

Ventrella reveals the many ways in which the sins of the fathers are visited upon the sons—and the daughters.

In the 1980s, a malacarne, or “bad seed,” grows up in a gritty neighborhood in the Italian city of Bari, on the Adriatic Coast, and seeks escape from the violence and mortifications she witnesses and endures there.

Maria De Santis, the spirited daughter of the mercurial Antonio and his browbeaten wife, Teresa, lives up to the “bad seed” designation bestowed upon her by her fisherman father, a Tony Curtis look-alike with a violent temper. Life in the poorest quarter of Bari provides Marí with few opportunities to indulge in wanderlust or satisfy her yearning for escape and recognition. A childhood alliance with the overweight and shunned Michele—another outsider with considerable family burdens of his own—provides Marí with a confidant and much-needed companion in adventure. Long-standing family rivalries and animosities (some based in reality, some in superstition) determine the course of Marí and Michele’s relationship in ways which are tragic, operatic, and soap operatic all at once. Marí’s violent family life mirrors the brutal reality of everyday life in the Bari underclass, but her struggle to escape her home, family, and city resembles the experiences of other young heroines as well. Ventrella’s narrative examines themes of class and gender expectations, accompanied by enough nostalgic detail to make the "old country" more appealing in memory than it was in reality. Inevitable comparisons of Ventrella’s work with that of Elena Ferrante—who also dissects the emotional experiences of young Italian women—will be propelled by Goldstein’s fluid translation of this novel in the wake of her work on Ferrante’s juggernaut. Ventrella's ambitious attempt to convey Marí's struggle echoes Ferrante's epic approach to chronicling women's lives, but, here, the action is played out on a smaller scale, over a shorter time, with fewer characters. Simmering violence and misogyny percolate beneath the surface of Marí’s story, but, really, everyone seems miserable and trapped in the net of poverty and deprivation Ventrella wraps around her characters.

Ventrella reveals the many ways in which the sins of the fathers are visited upon the sons—and the daughters.

Pub Date: June 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5420-0443-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Amazon Crossing

Review Posted Online: March 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

THE WOMEN

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

A young woman’s experience as a nurse in Vietnam casts a deep shadow over her life.

When we learn that the farewell party in the opening scene is for Frances “Frankie” McGrath’s older brother—“a golden boy, a wild child who could make the hardest heart soften”—who is leaving to serve in Vietnam in 1966, we feel pretty certain that poor Finley McGrath is marked for death. Still, it’s a surprise when the fateful doorbell rings less than 20 pages later. His death inspires his sister to enlist as an Army nurse, and this turn of events is just the beginning of a roller coaster of a plot that’s impressive and engrossing if at times a bit formulaic. Hannah renders the experiences of the young women who served in Vietnam in all-encompassing detail. The first half of the book, set in gore-drenched hospital wards, mildewed dorm rooms, and boozy officers’ clubs, is an exciting read, tracking the transformation of virginal, uptight Frankie into a crack surgical nurse and woman of the world. Her tensely platonic romance with a married surgeon ends when his broken, unbreathing body is airlifted out by helicopter; she throws her pent-up passion into a wild affair with a soldier who happens to be her dead brother’s best friend. In the second part of the book, after the war, Frankie seems to experience every possible bad break. A drawback of the story is that none of the secondary characters in her life are fully three-dimensional: Her dismissive, chauvinistic father and tight-lipped, pill-popping mother, her fellow nurses, and her various love interests are more plot devices than people. You’ll wish you could have gone to Vegas and placed a bet on the ending—while it’s against all the odds, you’ll see it coming from a mile away.

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781250178633

Page Count: 480

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2023

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DEMON COPPERHEAD

An angry, powerful book seething with love and outrage for a community too often stereotyped or ignored.

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Inspired by David Copperfield, Kingsolver crafts a 21st-century coming-of-age story set in America’s hard-pressed rural South.

It’s not necessary to have read Dickens’ famous novel to appreciate Kingsolver’s absorbing tale, but those who have will savor the tough-minded changes she rings on his Victorian sentimentality while affirming his stinging critique of a heartless society. Our soon-to-be orphaned narrator’s mother is a substance-abusing teenage single mom who checks out via OD on his 11th birthday, and Demon’s cynical, wised-up voice is light-years removed from David Copperfield’s earnest tone. Yet readers also see the yearning for love and wells of compassion hidden beneath his self-protective exterior. Like pretty much everyone else in Lee County, Virginia, hollowed out economically by the coal and tobacco industries, he sees himself as someone with no prospects and little worth. One of Kingsolver’s major themes, hit a little too insistently, is the contempt felt by participants in the modern capitalist economy for those rooted in older ways of life. More nuanced and emotionally engaging is Demon’s fierce attachment to his home ground, a place where he is known and supported, tested to the breaking point as the opiate epidemic engulfs it. Kingsolver’s ferocious indictment of the pharmaceutical industry, angrily stated by a local girl who has become a nurse, is in the best Dickensian tradition, and Demon gives a harrowing account of his descent into addiction with his beloved Dori (as naïve as Dickens’ Dora in her own screwed-up way). Does knowledge offer a way out of this sinkhole? A committed teacher tries to enlighten Demon’s seventh grade class about how the resource-rich countryside was pillaged and abandoned, but Kingsolver doesn’t air-brush his students’ dismissal of this history or the prejudice encountered by this African American outsider and his White wife. She is an art teacher who guides Demon toward self-expression, just as his friend Tommy provokes his dawning understanding of how their world has been shaped by outside forces and what he might be able to do about it.

An angry, powerful book seething with love and outrage for a community too often stereotyped or ignored.

Pub Date: Oct. 18, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-325-1922

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 13, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2022

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