Closer We Are to Dying

Joe Fiorito, Author Picador USA $24 (336p) ISBN 978-0-312-26136-8
""The more one remembers, the closer perhaps one is to dying."" Joseph Brodsky's epigraph beautifully sums up Fiorito's memoir of his heavy-drinking and philandering father, an Ontario mailman and bandstand idol and the youngest of a large clan of heavy-drinking, promiscuous brothers. As Dusty Fiorito dies of cancer in a hospital bed, he and the author recall the vibrant, funny, sometimes ribald stories their unique Italian-Canadian family has told and retold over the years, an ""endless ribbon of myth about our origins, the whisper of old murders and the tales of those who had died before I was born."" Inevitably, some readers will draw a comparison to a certain Irish-American author's bestselling memoir of his hard-drinking father and hardscrabble boyhood, but Fiorito follows a very different narrative line and achieves a very different literary effect. Night after night, through the 21 nights Fiorito sits up with his father in the hospital, the two prepare each other for the older man's death through their exchange of memories and stories. One of the best, and funniest--in which Fiorito's grandfather pays back his brother for an insult by making him a gift of a ""rabbit"" that is really the skinned carcass of a cat--is evoked with the brush of a fingertip across Dusty's upper lip and the single word meow whispered through closed teeth. Fiorito's unforced, unsentimental style strikes the perfect tone for his unusual mix of comedy and high emotion, stirring up a touching and effectively understated blend of family history, father-son friendship and personal passage from old anger and resentment into reconciliation and love. (June)
Reviewed on: 05/29/2000
Release date: 06/01/2000
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