All This Talk of Love: A Novel

By Christopher Castellani

(Algonquin, $13.95, 320 pages)

Who is this author?

Like his characters, Christopher Castellani comes from a family of Italian immigrants who settled in Delaware. Educated at Swarthmore, Tufts and Boston University, he lives in Arlington, Mass., and is the artistic director of Grub Street, a creative writing center in Boston. He also is on the faculty of the Warren Wilson College Low-Residency MFA program and the Bread Loaf Writers Conference. Castellani has now written three novels about the Grasso family: “A Kiss from Maddalena,” which won a Massachusetts Book Award, “The Saint of Lost Things “ and “All This Talk of Love.” A fourth novel is in the works.

What is this book about?

When Maddalena met Antonio, it was 50 years ago in the village of Santa Cecilia in the old country. They fell in love and, hoping for a better future, emigrated to the U.S. Maddalena thought she would never see her parents or sisters or brothers again, nor would anyone bind up the family rifts she left behind. But her daughter, Prima, wants to bring them back to Italy to visit and perhaps heal long-simmering disagreements. Maddalena resists: there are secrets there she does not want to face.  But calamities — a devastating auto accident and the onset of Alzeimhers’ Disease — make the trip even more important, a journey to the past that demands to be taken.

Why you’ll like it:

Family stories, well-told, have strong appeal, and Castellani is a talented storyteller. Anyone, not just those of Italian ancestry, who has family that left their country of origin to come to America will relate to the Grassos. Castellani knows how to employ sentiment without slipping into soap opera, and the clan of passionate people he has invented will jump off the page for his readers. Some may want to begin by reading : “A Kiss from Maddalena” and “The Saint of Lost Things” to get the full family picture, but “All This Talk of Love” can stand alone as a fascinating tale.

What others are saying:

Library Journal says: “Some might consider the Grasso family co-dependent. Frankie, a PhD candidate who lives in Boston and is having an affair with his married dissertation adviser, still talks to his mom, Prima, on the phone every night. Prima is the “best friend” of her four sons, the last of whom will soon graduate high school and leave the nest. Trying to keep her family together and fill the pending void, she engineers a family trip to Santa Cecilia, Italy, the birthplace of her parents, Antonio and Maddalena. The trouble is, Maddalena refuses to go. The entire family is haunted by the long-ago death of Maddalena’s eldest son, Tony, and no one has the full story as to why he took his own life. VERDICT: At turns funny and tragic, Castellani’s third novel … recalls similar contemporary family sagas, such as Jonathan Franzen’s “The Corrections,” but is far less cynical. Literary scholar Frankie reviles sentimentality, and the author manages to stop short of it while still making the story emotionally resonant. This reviewer defies
anyone not to fall in love with the Grassos.”

Says Kirkus Reviews:  “You have to tend to family like you tend to a garden,” writes Castellani …in his third literary effort. Matriarch Maddalena, “reporting and worrying and complaining and negotiating,” needs more care than any other flower in the Grasso family garden. Maddalena is 70-something, still beautiful, still grieving over the death of her first-born son, Tony, and very much the axis of life for husband Antonio, daughter Prima and son Francesco. Antonio is semiretired from his successful restaurant. Prima is well-married to prosperous Tom Buckley and mother of four strapping sons. Much to Maddalena’s distress, Frankie, born after Tony’s death, is a grad student in faraway Boston, “building additions to the sprawling mansion of his dissertation with the zeal of Bob Vila.” There is a certain equilibrium, even though Tony’s death was a suicide that left behind guilty secrets in the hearts of Antonio and Prima. Then, Prima uses the celebration of her youngest son’s religious confirmation to announce she has bought tickets for the entire family for a sojourn to her parents’ ancestral village, Santa Cecilia in Italy. Maddalena angrily dismisses the gift. Refusing to voice her objection, she fears returning to see the beauty of her youth ripped away by reality and to again meet Vito, her first love. Layered over this family conflict are other, more serious catastrophes. Prima and her youngest are seriously injured in an auto accident, an incident that turns her from nurturing and devoted to bitter and angry. Then, Maddalena begins a rapid descent into “old timer’s.” Castellani writes movingly, affectingly of immigrant life, of the dichotomy of cultures, of the persistence of love across generations.

“Castellani juggles multiple stories and characters with remarkable deftness, never striking a false or forced note. His evocations of the love between parents and their adult children, the bittersweetness of age, and the ambivalence of immigrants toward their old and new homes is nuanced and original,” says the Boston Globe.

When is it available?

It’s at the Downtown Hartford Public Library now.

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