A debut novel chronicles one family’s mishaps in the 1960s.
This story begins with Frank Bellincioni explaining to his 12-year-old great-nephew, Michael, that, despite outward appearances, their family has not always been as upstanding as it might seem. Michael imagines no one in the clan has ever done anything “dangerous or exciting,” though Frank insists it is one “bat-shit crazy tribe.” Frank then recounts the tribe’s colorful history. In 1958, he, his parents, and his two siblings move from Chicago to the nearby suburb of Prospect Heights. Although Prospect Heights is only 45 minutes out of the city, it is nearly a world away from what they know. While dealing with life “in the middle of nowhere” is not easy, they begin to cope. Frank’s father becomes a bartender with a side gig as a bookie, and Frank’s mother makes dresses, though at one point the local police suspect she is running a brothel. Along with the family’s relocation come the changing times of the ’60s. Frank even finds himself involved in the protests outside of the 1968 Democratic Convention, and his eighth-grade trip to Washington, D.C., winds up engulfed in raunchy, sexual liberation-era pandemonium. They are stories not just of a city family’s adjustment to suburban life, but also of that clan’s attempts to keep up with the world around it. Some of Monteleone’s tales deftly illustrate a bygone era, as when Frank’s brother goes behind his parents’ backs to change the specifications on his custom-ordered 1964 Buick Skylark. Other events, such as Frank’s father falling through a plasterboard ceiling, might play well at a family reunion but they do not garner much excitement in a work of fiction. The stories are relayed in a conversational, slightly crude style, as when Frank explains how his parents made sure his siblings “got their butts to church every Sunday” and how Pat Booth, one of his mother’s friends, hypnotized men with her “incredible rack.” Such a style produces a captivating air of authenticity, and the reader is likely to feel at least some connection with this family caught up in tempestuous times.
This book paints a believable, if occasionally lackluster, picture of turbulent American lives.