Review: All This Talk of Love

All This Talk of Love is the conclusion of a trilogy Christopher Castellani began with 2004's A Kiss from Maddalena, and it is by far the best of the three novels. Castellani has hit his writerly stride in exploring the hopes, wishes and dreams of an Italian-American family: Antonio and Maddalena Grasso, their daughter, Prima, and their son, Frankie. Another son, Tony, died at 15; his presence and his absence hover over all of them.

Prima decides, unilaterally, that she is taking the whole family--including her husband and their four sons--to Santa Cecilia, the Italian village where her mother was born. She makes this grand announcement at the birthday of her teenage twin boys, Matt and Zach. The tickets are paid for, the itinerary decided--then Maddalena balks. She has no desire to go back to the town she left more than 50 years ago. She is estranged from her brother and sister; furthermore, her sister married Vito, the man she really loved. (A Kiss from Maddalena tells the full story.) A full-blown soap opera ensues with Prima and Maddalena at odds about everything, not just the trip. The men in the family mostly stay out of the way.

Castellani, in this third novel, adds dimension to his characters, giving each of them believable reasons for their actions, making the reader's sympathies alternate between Maddalena and Prima. Even Frankie, a Mama's boy, is endearing, making us root for him when he finally meets the right girl.

Fate intervenes in three ways: Prima and her youngest son, Patrick, are in an automobile accident that leaves Prima needing therapy; Frankie moves home to finish his Ph.D. dissertation; Maddalena begins the long slide into Alzheimer's, suffering from memory lapses and sometimes failing even to recognize Antonio. The trip is off.

But Antonio, seeing Maddalena slipping away, knows he must get his house in order. He arranges for his eldest grandson, Ryan, to manage his very successful restaurant for the summer, just to see how he takes to it, then insists that the trip to Italy is on again. Maddalena goes along without objection. Prima hopes that when her mother sees her sister and brother she will recognize and forgive them. What happens in Italy is an act of kindness on Antonio's part that gives Maddalena back to Prima and Frankie for a moment--a pure act of love. --Valerie Ryan

Shelf Talker: A lovely and loving story of an Italian-American family, not far from their roots, coping with loss, old myths and memories.

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