A FINE PLACE

Nicholas Montemarano, Author . Context $21.95 (224p) ISBN 978-1-893956-21-6

The sensational 1989 murder of a black teen-ager in Brooklyn provides the background for Montemarano's first novel, a kaleidoscopic picture of a family and a community still living with loss, pain, anger and guilt. The mundane routines of Vera and Sal Santangelo's lives assume a tragic shade after their grandson, Tony, is imprisoned because of his involvement with the crime. Vera's sister, Sophia, also falls under this shadow; childless and widowed, she places Tony on a pedestal, idealizing the young man through her hazy memories of his childhood. All are galvanized with anticipation when Tony finishes his five-year sentence and is released from prison, but his reappearance in the family only re-ignites existing tensions. Montemarano chooses to tell the story through multiple perspectives, alternating among Sal, Vera, Sophia and Tony; what the story loses in cohesion it gains in layers of insight. The setting ranges from 1989 to 1999, shifting randomly back and forth and gradually delineating the characters' inner lives through short glimpses of their sad memories and simple daily routines. The actual murder is described only in the first—riveting—chapter, and in the final one, but in between the banalities of family conversation make it clear that racism is ingrained in their attitudes and has been passed on to Tony and his peers. The older generation's preoccupation with their aging bodies creates a pervasive atmosphere of quiet, understated despair, while the gritty reality of Tony's experiences reveals the chasm between them. What is most affecting is the realization that Tony is the victim of social circumstances, as the sins and daily sufferings of this ill-fated family are revealed in a stark and unforgiving light. (Feb.)

Forecast:The arresting black-and-white jacket art and a blurb from Robert Coles should help this strong small press offering pick up a few extra readers.

Reviewed on: 01/07/2002
Release date: 02/01/2002
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