Review

Italian Lessons

by Peter Pezzelli

Fans
of Peter Pezzelli’s previous books will recognize the
territory covered in ITALIAN LESSONS. Set mostly in a Rhode Island
college town, with intermittent flashbacks and jaunts to various
Italian vistas, the book harkens back to many of the well-traversed
places and themes explored in home to italyand FRANCESCA'S KITCHEN.
But just as many authors tend to write what they know, so, too,
does Pezzelli with his latest novel. Although he may not attract
hordes of new readers (or sustain the rapt attention of old ones)
with his semi-repetitive approach to storytelling, the fact is that
Pezzelli has found a formula that works for him --- and, it seems,
for his readers.

The book’s young protagonist, Carter Quinn, has just
graduated from college and is without a plan --- at least an
entrepreneurial one. Instead, he’s hoping to travel to Italy
to find Elena, the girl of his dreams --- or so he thinks. Despite
the fact that he had only spent one blissful night with her, and
the nagging point that he knows nothing about her aside from the
fact that she’s from Italy and has gone back home to finish
school, Carter is head over heels in love and must track her down
at all costs to tell her how he feels.

Throwing all caution (and rationality) to the wind, he decides to
put off getting a “real” job in favor of following his
heart. The problem is, he can’t speak the language. So he
seeks out the help of a music professor, Giancarlo Rosa, who has
been known to give Italian lessons from time to time. While the two
don’t hit it off at first, little by little their attitudes
about each other --- and the task at hand --- begin to change.
After weeks of rigorous training, Carter is finally ready to embark
on his journey.

Before Carter leaves, Giancarlo gives him a watch to bring with him
to Italy. The watch had belonged to his father, and Giancarlo wants
Carter to travel to the tiny hamlet in the mountains where he grew
up, to return the watch to his estranged brother, Giorgio, whom
Giancarlo hasn’t seen in 30 years. The reason for the two
brothers’ falling out remains a mystery to Carter, but
because of his professional relationship with his teacher, he
refrains from digging too far into Giancarlo’s past and just
agrees to deliver the package --- but only after he finds
Elena.

What Carter eventually finds out about Elena may not come to much
of a surprise to astute readers, but the lesson he learns is
valuable, nonetheless. In fact, his much-anticipated encounter with
her is almost an afterthought to what happens when Carter meets
Giorgio and his family. When tragedy strikes, and Carter becomes
the catalyst for a brotherly reunion after three decades, he
realizes that maybe his ill-fated trip was worth it after
all.

ITALIAN LESSONS is at once romantic, life-affirming and
surprisingly entertaining to read. While the plot might seem too
carefully crafted and clichéd to be realistic at times, less
snarky readers who are willing to suspend their urge to critique in
favor of being swept away will guiltily grasp onto this neatly
wrapped-up story that is ripe for the silver screen. Connoisseurs
of all things Italian will delight in the various Italian
foodstuffs, cities, phrases and quirky Italian-esque habits
mentioned throughout the book (including their maniacal driving
tactics), and those in need of taking a risk or two might find
themselves thinking twice about the well-worn path they’ve
planned for themselves.

With ITALIAN LESSONS, Pezzelli wasn’t trying to write an
opus, and he succeeds at what he sets out to do. As Carter and
Giancarlo both learn at the end of the story, sometimes the best
things and experiences in life are those that aren’t mired in
excessive analysis, but those that are enjoyed for what they are in
their simplest, purest form.

Reviewed by Alexis Burling on January 22, 2011

Italian Lessons
by Peter Pezzelli

  • Publication Date: October 1, 2007
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 346 pages
  • Publisher: Kensington
  • ISBN-10: 0758220502
  • ISBN-13: 9780758220509