IN REVERE, IN THOSE DAYS
When 11-year-old Anthony Benedetto's parents die in an airplane crash, he is saved by the loving presence of his extended Italian family in this gracefully written coming-of-age novel. Set in the 1960s and moving from Anthony's parents' death through his experiences at an elite prep school, the novel is structured as a memoir and reads like one: long on nostalgia, short on dramatic conflict or credibility. Anthony's transition from smart but damaged kid to successful student at Exeter is too smooth to be compellingly real. Many scenes are predictable, such as when Anthony loses his virginity to an older, caring woman, but the portraits of his relatives and the Boston suburb of Revere are palpably full of life. Anthony's courtly grandparents are painfully aware of the culture they left behind in Italy; Uncle Peter, a boxer lacking the ferocity to be a champion or mob "muscle," is richly drawn. And Anthony's cousin Rosalie is a troubled and ultimately tragic figure who deserves a book of her own. Merullo (Revere Beach Boulevard) is a talented writer with a fine, lyrical ear, and the book is rife with acute observations and powerful (if familiar) themes: loss, recovery, community. Ultimately, the narrative is limited by the elegiac tone; Merullo is content to bask in the glow of nostalgia instead of stoking his imagination into flame. National advertising, New England author tour. (Sept. 17)
Forecast:Merullo's previous novels garnered critical praise; his latest will appeal to devotees of memoir and to readers interested in the Italian-American experience.