Make Nice

Rita Ciresi, Author
Rita Ciresi, Author Ecco Press $22 (0p) ISBN 978-0-88001-515-8
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Smooth prose, a snappy pace and clever, if nasty, repartee give a veneer of fun to Ciresi's bittersweet debut novel (after the Flannery O'Connor Award-winning short-story collection Mother Rocket). But under the shiny surface of this funny, earthy work there's a tremendous amount of pain as, after three years of marriage, Rosa Salvatore and her 31-year-old husband, Gary Fisher, face the fact of his terminal cancer. Bookended by Gary's diagnosis and his rapid decline, the narrative traces their courtship and marriage. Insecure, self-deprecating Rosa, from a working-class, Italian Catholic New Haven neighborhood known as Pizza Beach, is determined to earn a college degree and escape her past. As a hospital social worker, she meets Gary, a wealthy Jewish law student at Yale, when they work together on the case of a black client named Ivory White. Both Rosa and Gary had terrible childhoods, thanks to outrageously neurotic parents. Rosa's are lower-class loudmouths; Gary's mother is a snooker champion who constantly bickers with his father. Both sets of parents are glad to see their children marry, however, and all grieve after Rosa has a miscarriage. Gary's death brings none of the survivors closer, with Rosa suffering many regrets. Ciresi's depiction of New Haven's blue-collar ethnic neighborhoods is complete with local color. Her facile comic energy makes for entertaining reading, though constant wisecracking robs the characterization of some depth. Yet there is real substance in this tragicomic story of two people with smart mouths and starved hearts groping their way towards a love they don't get much chance to enjoy. (Sept.)
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