Book Review: All This Talk of Love

all talkThank you to Net Galley for advancing a copy of All This Talk of Love. Unfortunately it arrived as an (unreadable) PDF and was a book I even scheduled in my Reading Schedule to read. It was the last book in the schedule! Alas, rather than fight through teeny tiny type of a PDF I waited for it to come to the library. I’m very glad I waited and read it, as it was certainly worth it.

All This Talk of Love is a lovely piece of fiction about families. It beautifully depicts each member as their individual selves and as part of their larger close-knit family. The Grasso family is headed by Antonio and Maddalena Grasso. They had left Italy as a very young married couple and immigrated to America over 50 years prior. They have three children, Prima (the Italian Princess), Tony, (their now deceased son) and Frankie (the son conceived years later and out of grief).

None of the children, or their children (Prima’s), have been back to the Old Country. As a surprise Prima has purchased tickets for the entire Grasso family to bring them back to Santa Cecilia one summer. It is this encompassing act that we read each of their individual stories and their place in the Grasso clan. This, and the shadow of grief that hovers over all from their son, brother and uncle that killed himself when he was just 15 years old.

Maddalena; the beautiful and stunning, still, vibrant matriarch of the Grasso clan. She has absolutely no intention of returning to Santa Cecilia ever. What is there is only the country of when she was young and beautiful. The place where her mother was still alive, her sister was not suffering from Alzheimer’s and where she loved another man. Going back would only destroy those memories. That is what they are, that is what they will remain. Maddalena however, is beginning to show disturbing signs of this horrible and hereditary disease that will soon steal her mind.

She’s never been back to Santa Cecilia, not even for a visit, not once in the fifty years since Antonio married her and brought her to America, and she’s not about to start now. Unlike him, she still has her people in that village. She remembers them how they were when she left them in 1946. Now most of them are bones in the ground behind the church…She has only one brother left, Claudio and one sister, Carolina, but she hasn’t spoken to them in twenty years. She won’t see them old and sick, not after working so hard, every day, to keep them young and beautiful and full of life in her mind. She won’t let that happen. ….Santa Cecilia was the one place on earth where she was young. What belongs to her and her alone is that village during those nineteen years, her memories of it, of who she might have been…Go back now, to see it all changed, and that, too, will be taken away.

Antonio: the patriarch of the Grasso’s. He brought Maddalena over and started a family restaurant with the name from back in the Old Country so that she would always have that place where they met and he fell in love. He aches, longs, yearns, dreams of returning to the Old Country. He wants to go back and live what he feels are his final moments of this long and love-filled life he’s lead. Antonio believes that if he were to go back there, the deep, deep regret and loss and grief over losing his son, Tony, will disappear there. For Tony never set foot in Italy and should Antonio go back he would finally be able to let go of his grief, and the secret he’s kept about Tony’s death and his reasons for taking his own life, from everyone.

Take me to Santa Cecilia, where I belong. I can count on one hand the years we have left together.

He is the only person alive who knew the secret of Tony’s heart. He keeps it closer than any he’s ever known. It’s like a heavy stone in his pocket, one he takes out day after day, turns over, rubs with his thumb, as if it’s beautiful and precious, when – he almost has to remind himself – it was the one bit of ugliness in Tony, and it proved powerful enough to kill him.

Prima: she is the Italian Princess, the spoiled rich girl that married the Irish man. She is approaching middle-age in despair and is not looking forward to living in an empty-nest when her four sons move on. She tries very hard to be the “cool mom” and boasts her job is to raise four sons and care for their large home and family. She wishes with everything to bring all of the Grasso clan together for this trip to Santa Cecilia so that they are all together, delaying the inevitable for just a little longer. She is the control-freak that needs to arrange for everything in order to hide her desperate loneliness.

Frankie: is the wandering intellectual of the family. He knows he lives in the shadow of Tony yet holds his mother in the highest esteem, adoration and love. Never one night goes without their 11:01 p.m. phone conversation following the viewing of their favourite soap opera. Frankie is pursuing his PhD and seems to flounder a bit here and there, in love, in his dissertation, in his place in the family. After finally ditching the dead-end love affair with his married advisor and finding a new advisor as well, Frankie meets another girl and returns home to find the focus he so needs to get himself on track.

And then, just as they have finally convinced Maddalena to make the trip to Italy, all done in hopes it helps to reverse the quickly advancing destruction of her mind, tradegy strikes the Grasso family again. This greatly delays their trip by a number of years, but the trip is finally made in the end. Unfortunately, it does not hold the magic or promise that was so hoped for before. Maddelena is all but lost in her mind now and no longer recognizes her family. It is these incredibly touching moments that the book ends.

All This Talk of Love is a wonderful, wonderful story about family and is filled with love, loss, longing, regret, grief and secrets. I’m really glad I kept it on my planned reading list/schedule. I’m glad I did not forget about reading it or returning it to the library before actually reading. It’s really a beautiful story, filled with many poignant and touching moments, all of which are meant to touch upon what it is to be a part of a family in all its glory, madness, sadness and frustration, despair and love, its great, unyielding love.

Book Review: Shout Her Lovely Name

In case you’re wondering, I hate you.”

“Yes, but she used to love me.

Here is book #2 in the Net Galley Knock Down Challenge done and dusted! Thank you to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Net Galley for the opportunity to read this collection of stories.

This 11-story collection is about varied mother & child relationships. Ah, yes, we all have a mother, and some of us have a daughter or daughters. It is this relationship between a mother and a daughter that can range in such massive complexity you can imagine walking through a mine field to be a walk through a patch of daisies instead of the roads travelled between a mother and daughter.

This collection of stories examines many of the varied and wide-ranging types of women that become mothers, it ranges from the trepidation of first learning of pregnancy and the decisions to face about keeping or letting go of a child to coping with brand new motherhood. Primarily, it is a suite of stories centered around two characters, Ruby and her daughter Nora.

In Shout Her Lovely Name, a mother and daughter are at war over food. The food her daughter will no longer eat. The story takes place over the course of a year with the mother trying to help her daughter overcome anorexia, or disordered eating.

Ruby Jewel is the second in the series and centres around a father and daughter drinking at the bar upon her return from college. They are prolonging their trip home to see her mother, and often talk of her in the past tense. Both Ruby and her father are alcoholics and her mother is a saddened resigned woman. This story does not focus so much on the mother as much however. My guess is that it is more about the mother as a background, resigned role.

Alone as She Felt All Day: Can’t say I cared much for this story at all. It’s about Ruby, who awaits confirmation of her pregnancy in the doctor’s office and spends the rest of her days finding ways to rid herself of it.

Free to a Good Home: This one takes up after Ruby has told the boyfriend, Marco, of their “unfortunate circumstances” (as written). Ruby has the baby early and is torn and pushed in many directions towards giving her daughter up for adoption (Marco’s choice, and would mean Marco stays) or leaving Marco and raising the baby alone with family. With $25 left and a note of apology, Ruby names her daughter Nora and takes the latter choice.

This is So Not Me: This story was quite good and amusing! One of my favourites in the collection. A tale of a couple with a newborn dealing with a long flight delay and the cranky passengers it invokes along with other cauterwaling babies on board. It is also about the woman and her newborn “progeny” and how this life came to be with her professor, now husband, whom is 25 years older than her.

Manx: Here we find ourselves further along in life with Ruby and her daughter, Nora. Manx is a type of cat that is naturally mutated by having a shortened or no tail, and Ruby has brought one home for Nora hoping it may improve her life some. In this story we see how other’s view Nora as a mother and the hardscrabble life she has been living and how the cat, Phil Donahue, becomes an example or metaphor I suppose of the relationship between Nora and her mother Ruby.

Take Your Daughter to Work: Is another story about Nora and Ruby. Basically Ruby is a train-wreck and I’m wondering if the author is subtlety suggesting that those many years ago that the boyfriend Marco was right in saying Ruby should have given Nora up for adoption to a more stable family. Or is the author perhaps suggesting that this is their particular family arrangement and one cannot judge who’s a better or more fit person to be a mother? Here we see Nora coming to age and trying to find herself after moving to so many different schools and adapting to her mother’s haphazard lifestyle.

A Whole Weekend of My Life: Here, Nora meets her father (Marco) for the first time in her fourteen years of life. Nora stands in the airport staring at the man that is her father and realizes that when Ruby decided to keep her, this is what she lost. And this is the man that Nora lost as well, that her life wasn’t full, “it had plenty of room for lawn mowers, half sisters and a dad.” This was a very sad story, as Nora must realize that her father, while open to meeting her, has and will not include her in his life – she will remain a secret.

Plum Tree: We see the unfortunate upbringing that has defined Nora in this story. Nora is hanging out with the “wrong crowd” and doing drugs and skipping school. Nora is in the mindset that she is rebelling against Ruby, that she is nothing like her mother and she can make her own new and unique mistakes.

Rate my Life: Ugh, by this point I’m just weary and fed up with the train wreck Nora’s life is becoming as well.

Developmental Blah Blah: Finally, a story that did not feature the Ruby & Nora Show but again, by this point I was so detached from these stories I didn’t read it.

This collection simply did not appeal to me. Since many in this collection centred around Ruby and Nora, I found myself hyper-judgemental about Ruby as she is a mere flake and a floozy who bounces from man to man like she’s changing underwear. She is/was neither mature or stable enough to raise her daughter in an environment or lifestyle one would deem suitable. Perhaps I am being overly judgemental and critical here, but the stories and sad, pathetic lives they lived did not connect with me.

Mennonites Don’t Dance by Darcie Hossack and The Divinity Gene by Matthew J. Trafford will remain my favourites for the time being.

3 stars overall I suppose for Shout Her Lovely Name.

If you wish to read two wonderful collections of short stories, I highly encourage you to pick these two: