A well-crafted, unabashedly literary debut.
Rocco LaGrassa is a baker. His wife and children have left him, but he doesn’t understand that they’re gone for good. When he learns that his son, a soldier, has died in Korea, he’s quite certain that there’s been a mistake. Rocco’s confusion is emblematic of the existential ambiguity that defines this novel’s characters. All of them are displaced, living somewhere between the places they’ve left behind—or that their parents have left behind—and the Ohio neighborhood where they’ve settled. The story revolves around the Feast of the Assumption, August 15, 1953. Scibona captures the uneasy juxtaposition of the immigrant experience with an incisive description of the festival crowds: “Europe was happening, right here, and it didn’t fit. This wasn’t the continent of the group…This was the country of the particular person.” Scibona’s prose contains the off-kilter rhythm and startling flourishes of imperfectly acquired English spoken by immigrants, and his narrative is laced with the overheard fragments—revelatory in their incomprehensibility—that James Joyce called “epiphanies.” These shards of conversation turn sinister as the novel progresses, as the Italian inhabitants of Ohio enclave Elephant Park try to justify their own hostility when a handful of African-Americans try to take part in their celebration. As Scibona moves back-and-forth in time, and shifts perspective from one carefully drawn character to another, he slowly puts together a portrait of a community in transition.
A demanding but rewarding novel likely to appeal to a very small audience.