A TIME FOR WEDDING CAKE by Salvatore La Puma


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Winner of a recent Flannery O'Connor award for The Boys of Bensonhurst (1987), La Puma returns to the old Brooklyn neighborhood for more ethnic melodrama in this, his first novel--a clumsy fiction that takes the clichÉ of the hot-blooded Sicilian to absurd dramatic lows. La Puma begins his saga of urban love and marriage with a series of likable, nostalgic portraits and memories, all of which celebrate the earthy sexuality of the ""fat and sassy girls"" and ""tough and horny boys"" who people postwar Bensonhurst. The narrator, Gene Leone, and his brother Mario return from military service ready to start careers and find wives, but to avoid the sort of rotten marriage endured by their parents. Mario, a bricklayer, quickly settles on the beautiful daughter of the respected local doctor. But Gene, an elementary schoolteacher, enjoys playing the field. Eventually, the librarian Isabel Albanese proves the most aggressive and wins Gene away from his other lovers. At least for the beginning of their marriage. Marlo, meanwhile, suffers a tragic on-site accident that alters all their lives--so much so that he asks his brother to artificially inseminate his wife, who secretly prefers a more natural method with Gene. If sex with his brother's wife makes Gene slightly remorseful, no such guilt invades his affair with a former lover, herself now married to a friend of the Leones. Isabel's wild passion for her husband takes an improbable turn: she stalks the adulterers, and stabs her rival to death. Gene decides to sneak into a psycho ward, where he languishes while matters settle themselves domestically. With the murder covered up, Gene and Isabel, ""chained together"" by guilt and blood, act out the cycle of vengeance in strange ways, descending further into crude, animal behavior. If ""family life"" is ""a Sicilian's true religion,"" as La Puma avers, then this is a heretic's chronicle. La Puma's disappointing novel is never quite as offensive as his narrator's smug sense of his sexual prowess. A welcome memory-book turns into a sordid little affair here.

Pub Date: Jan. 21st, 1990
Publisher: Norton