Carole Giangrande (Facebook) (Twitter) (Goodreads)
Inanna Poetry and Fiction Series (2014), Paperback (ISBN 1771331380 / 9781771331388)
Fiction (novella), 150 pages
Source: Publisher, via TLC Book Tours
I don’t often read novellas. I’m not sure many people do, actually–they’re such an odd specialized form of fiction, and I suspect that probably makes it a challenge to get them published. I like that they’re more developed than short stories without requiring the time commitment of full-length fiction, but those same attributes can make them a less than fully satisfying reading experience.
Carole Giangrande’s Midsummer, a novella with autobiographical elements, appealed to two of my fiction sweet spots: it has a New York City setting, and involves an Italian-American family, both of which are “autobiographical elements” for me as well. The second factor particularly resonated because of my personal language-learning project (currently on a brief hiatus, but soon to be revived) in preparation for an eventual trip to Italy. Neither of those elements disappointed, and I was gratified to discover that most of them time, I was mentally translating Italian phrases correctly.
The writing in Midsummer is lovely, often evocative and poetic, but the story feels underdeveloped. This may be a inherent limitation of the novella form. While I think Giangrande has largely succeeded at working within that structure, I’m curious about how this might have turned out in the “novel in stories” form instead; I don’t really see a conventional novel here, but the linked-short-story setup seems like it could have produced a more substantial read. The author introduces some intriguing threads that can’t really be fully explored here, and I’d like to have had the chance to know her characters better than the constraints of Midsummer allowed.
While I appreciate the author’s desire to work in this less-common form of fiction–and, again, I think she did well with it overall—for me,Midsummer will end up being filed under “less than fully satisfying reading experiences.”
All her life, Joy’s been haunted by a man she’s never met — her visionary grandfather, the artist Lorenzo. At work on digging a New York subway tunnel, his pickaxe struck the remains of an ancient Dutch trading ship — and a vision lit up the underground, convincing him that he was blessed. As it turned out, his children did well in life, and almost a century later, his granddaughter Joy, a gifted linguist, married the Canadian descendant of the lost ship’s captain.
Yet nonno’s story also led to the death of Joy’s cousin Leonora, her Aunt Elena’s only child. It was a tragedy that might have been prevented by Joy’s father Eddie, a man who’s been bruised by life and who seldom speaks to his sister. Yet in the year 2000, he has no choice. Wealthy Aunt Elena and Uncle Carlo are coming from Rome to New York City to celebrate their fiftieth wedding anniversary. They’ve invited the family to dine at the sky-high restaurant in one of the Twin Towers — above the tunnel where nonno Lorenzo saw his vision long ago. On the first day of summer, Elena and Eddie will face each other at last.
Midsummer is a story of family ties and fortune, and of finding peace as life nears its close, high above the historic place where nonno’s story began.
“Ours is a family of dreamers, beginning with nonno Lorenzo, who had a vision underground.
“While my grandfather dug a subway tunnel in downtown Manhattan, his pickaxe shattered into brilliant light, revealing the shadow of a lost, three-masted ship. A vision revealed by the grace of God—or so he thought—a sign of blessing that flowered in Elena, his fortunate daughter; that grew in Eddie, his skeptical, educated son.”