Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Review: All This Talk of Love by Christopher Castellani

I tend to be an over-sharing sort of person.  And I don't just share the good and the great but also those things that don't make me too proud.  My annual Christmas letter is more than enough evidence of that.  But life is very much packed with good and bad.  So why shouldn't we admit to the unflattering and the unpalatable and talk about the things that would otherwise fester or haunt us, giving comfort to others who face similar challenges and disappointments?  Not everyone wants to live this way though, only confidently sharing the highlights and suppressing the less than picture perfect.  I know this because some of my family was this way.  Just like with my own Italian-Irish family, Maddalena Grasso, one of the main characters in Castellani's latest novel, All This Talk of Love, works very much this way, prefering to move on without looking back, without confronting loss, always carrying her sadness with her but not allowing it into her forward-looking present.  So what happens when her daughter decides that she wants to take her parents, who haven't seen family in the fifty years since they emigrated, back to Italy?  Secrets and sadness and long untold tales tumble out into present view but it is only through the deep and sustaining love of the Grasso family, no matter what they have faced in the past or will in the future, that holds everything together.
Antonio and Maddalena came to America from Italy fifty years ago and in all that time, they haven't been back.  Maddalena has never wanted to return, to see and talk to her family again, choosing instead to make her family and her life in the US.  She is afraid that maintaining her connection to Italy will allow the past to resurface and so she has spent fifty years distancing herself from that past.  She and Antonio have raised their own family, daughter Prima is the mother of adult sons of her own now and son Frankie is an academic earning his PhD.  Antonio's restaurant continues to thrive even without his constant daily attendance.  And although they will always mourn the death of their fifteen year old son Tony, they do not discuss it.  They certainly appear contented as they move into their twilight years.  But then at her son's confirmation party, Prima announces that she and husband Tom are taking the entire Grasso family back to Italy, to the village of Santa Cecilia, where it all began.  And so begins the tug of war over whether or not they will be going to Italy between the determined Maddalena, who is adamantly against the trip, and her equally determined daughter Prima.
Narrated through the eyes of many of the characters, the novel examines the idea of memory, the past, and buried secrets.  Every character has their own unexamined, unshared secrets which inform their reactions to not only the announcement of the Italy trip but also many other instances in their lives.  And their perspectives of each other are also firmly rooted only in what they know, not those hidden and unsuspected things that lie just beneath the surface, the sadnesses, disappointments, and griefs.  As Maddalena and Prima debate over whether or not the trip to Italy is going to happen, the reader watches the slow unfolding of the secrets and stories, ancient and new, that make each character who he or she is.  Despite their inability to understand each other and their motivations, and in the face of the old tragedy of losing Tony and the newer health crises that hit the Grassos in the course of the novel, it is clear that although they sweep so many things under the rug and refuse to acknowledge them, above all else each of them truly loves and cares for the others.
Castellani has written a poignant, slowly revealed novel that captures the close knit Italian family experience and the many and varied ways in which the family members show their love for each other.  The characters are all very real feeling although sometimes the explanations or motivations for their actions seemed a bit missing.  Even as their deepest held secrets are revealed to the reader, it feels as if there's something still kept back, one final secret not shared.  The story itself is slow moving, centered more on the concept of growing older, the power of memory, familial love, and the fallacy of going home again, in mind or in body, than on an action oriented plot.  It is an introspective read, with all of the characters having the chance to muse on their own memories and understandings of their shared past especially as life keeps coming at them and subtly altering what they thought they remembered.  A satisfying read to be savoured, this is actually the third novel in a loose trilogy but it easily stands on its own.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.

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