The German-born author breaks new ethnic ground to little effect in her tale of a child’s death haunting two generations of Italian-Americans in the Bronx.
Hegi (Stones From the River, 1994; The Vision of Emma Blau, 2000, etc.) chronicles a half-century (1953–2002) through the eyes of four members of the Amedeo family: Floria, her sister-in-law Leonora, and their children, Anthony and Belinda. Floria’s brother Victor, who inherited their mother’s love of cooking, starts a catering business and marries Leonora; Anthony is their only child. Floria weds Malcolm, a roofer from England who steals from his employees and periodically goes “Elsewhere” (jail), which means his wife and her twin girls, Bianca and Belinda, must move in with her brother. Tragedy ensues when seven-year-old Anthony encourages cousin Bianca, in her Superman cape, to believe she can fly to her father. She falls to her death, and this central event shapes every subsequent development. Floria takes to her bed and abandons her sewing business. Guilt-ridden Anthony retreats into silence. Leonora wonders whether her son has inherited a violent streak from her father, a guard at Sing Sing who frequently beat Leonora and later committed suicide. Though the loss of Bianca still resonates 50 years later, Hegi provides a slew of other dramas. Victor has an affair and tries to get an annulment before changing his mind and begging Leonora to take him back, which she does: “Because of the habits. Because of Anthony . . . . Because time will not be theirs forever.” Floria ditches Malcolm for his best man, the guy she should have married all along. Belinda finds happiness in her second marriage to a former priest, while Anthony, now a chef, fathers a son in an on-again/off-again marriage punctuated by six separations and five reunions. All these exits and entrances count for little beside Bianca’s death, which sits like an indigestible lump in the gut of the narrative.
Lacking coherent plot development and a single compelling protagonist, Hegi’s latest reads disconcertingly like snippets from a multigenerational saga.