A novel recounts six decades in the lives of two lifelong friends.
Author, motivational speaker, and former Catholic priest Tagliareni (The Cross or the Swastika, 2014, etc.) blends his own memories with fiction in this sparkling, inspirational novel about Michael McNally and Sal La Greca, who first meet in a New Jersey grade school in 1954. When plucky Sal rescues scrawny Michael from menacing seventh-grade bullies, the two boys forge a bond. The two are different in several ways; black-haired, olive-skinned Michael adheres to his Catholic faith, while blond, blue-eyed, light-skinned Sal is staunchly secular. Still, their friendship deepens and endures throughout their adolescence, and their connection is strengthened by their “abiding respect and trust” for each other, particularly when Sal acts as a pallbearer at Michael’s mother’s funeral. With pleasant assuredness and narrative dexterity, Tagliareni effortlessly builds out his central characters’ profiles through their college years as Michael sacrifices a Notre Dame scholarship to raise his two brothers and Sal embraces the expansive, urban diversity of life at New York University. As the years pass, however, the men’s lives go in very different directions. Michael gets married, loses a brother in a tragic accident, and embarks on a medical career. Sal, after much introspection, surprisingly forges ahead with an intention to enter the priesthood; the author convincingly handles this latter plot development with authenticity, as it’s drawn from Tagliareni’s own experiences as a member of the clergy. As adults, both men are successful, productive members of society and are resilient against the slings and arrows of an unjust, unpredictable world.
The author proves to be masterful at filling the two main narratives with life-changing events, both good and bad, which will keep the reader in a constant state of anticipation for Michael and Sal’s inevitable reunion. Indeed, another tragedy brings them together again, and both men are grateful to have the opportunity to catch up. At the same time, the author shows how each character recognizes how far their destinies have diverged. Michael assists wounded Marines in Vietnam before returning home to his family in New York and finding out the truth about his son’s sexual orientation; Sal moves up the ranks of the Catholic hierarchy, but the wisdom of an Austrian doctor drastically alters the course of his life. Throughout the story, Tagliareni draws extensively on his own life experiences, as well as those of his friends, which gives the novel an air of verisimilitude. It’s consistently satisfying, even enchanting at times, even though, for the two main players, the sheer amount of tragedy tends to outweigh the joy. Michael and Sal are immensely memorable characters, and their personalities will make readers care about them instantly. As a result, these kindhearted men are easily able to carry the novel through to its bittersweet conclusion. At its core, this is a life-affirming story that models the most soulful aspects of love and companionship.
An uplifting and often engrossing testament to the power of enduring friendship through the decades.