by Roland Merullo
I was born in the next town over from Revere. The author here says that that town is Malden. It's actually Everett. Small oversight. Fiction, after all. Despite his obvious connection, familiarity and often compelling descriptions, Merullo does leave a little distance between the reader and the place that he wants to make so central to this coming-of-age story. Tonio is a portrait painter living now in Vermont, but we don't learn much about his adult life. Here, he reflects on his childhood and youth in a vibrant Italian-American community in the seaside town of Revere, Massachusetts. They are a lively family, not perfect by any means, but deeply loving. A very rich environment in which to grow up. But Tonio wants to be more, and his doting grandfather wants him to be more, so he goes off to a private school in New Hampshire. He finds conflict between who he wants to be and the boy he was back in Revere. He also finds sadness, loss and tragedy along the way. In fact, this book is steeped in a solemn mood that the author can not seem to break from, even briefly. The book is almost relentlessly somber and the author seems to be trying to reach a poignant moment at the end of each chapter. At first, these moments are very well written, powerful and often touching. But by the end of the book, there is an almost oppressive feel to the story. The reader yearns for a moment of lighthearted joy, if only momentary. Still, this is a pretty good book. It is often moving. It is a novel that reads like a revealing memoir. And it is above average for its genre. Worth a look.
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