cover image Sacco and Vanzetti Must Die!

Sacco and Vanzetti Must Die!

Mark Binelli, . . Dalkey Archive, $14.95 (353pp) ISBN 978-1-56478-445-2

What do comedy and anarchy have in common? That's the question behind this wildly inventive debut novel that recasts the famous anarchists as a pie-throwing slapstick duo. The reader first meets Nic Sacco ("Fatty") and Bart Vanzetti ("Skinny") as comic actors à la Laurel and Hardy in Sacco and Vanzetti Dessert the Cause , a film that mixes classic gags with a bitter rivalry. The duo barrel their way from vaudeville to film, finally striking it big with a series of "knife-grinder" comedies that are as violent as they are funny. Like a good silent comedy, the novel has its share of feints—Binelli cites fictional interviews and scholarly works about the pair's place in film history. But for all the off-kilter humor, there's an undercurrent of social consciousness that calls attention to the xenophobia of the early 20th century (one of the pair's movies is called A Couple of Wops in a Jam ), condemning the role ethnic prejudice played in the actual Sacco and Vanzetti's conviction and execution. It's a hefty book, more intellectually satisfying than emotionally so, and it takes a long time for Binelli to bring together his counter-tale with its real-life antecedents. Still, this is an impressive first outing; ambitious in scope and brimming with sharp-edged black humor. (July)