Review

My Cold War

by Tom Piazza



John Delano, hip professor at an effete New England college, is
skilled in creating the "History McNuggets" that he is about to
purvey via public broadcasting in JOHN DELANO'S COLD WAR --- once
he's written the actual book. Which he hasn't. And may not, ever.
Because the longer he ponders the Cold War's larger implications,
the closer he comes to realizing that it never belonged to
him.

What does belong to Delano is the midlife crisis he's experiencing
--- 'suffering from' might be more accurate. After his old-school
Italian-American father dies, Delano (whose Anglicization of his
surname was an early attempt to disconnect from that father) finds
himself unable to productively sort through the material for his
Big Book. Part of the problem is that subject and self have become
hopelessly entangled. Where does the Cold War leave off and
Delano's Cold War begin? He can't decide, and won't let us do so,
either.

MY COLD WAR opens with a scene both unsettling and totemic: young
John's parents receive a visit from an old friend of his mother's
who wants them to join the fervently anti-Communist John Birch
Society. Piazza's memory and eye for details pin down his parents
like half-dead butterfly specimens: "The house was decorated, like
most of the houses I remember from that time, in a mix of styles in
which the elements had been stirred up but not dissolved . . ." He
writes, "The whole postwar Levittown middle-class home-decorating
Esperanto that everyone seemed, somehow, to have learned."

As John Delano's youth dissolves into adulthood, the world as his
parents understood it devolves into chaos, with a long literary
riff on Dylan at Newport symbolizing the shift. Meanwhile, his
father's descent into mental illness leaves John and his brother
Chris rudderless, despite their mother's attempts to introduce her
male friends into their lives. Now, in middle age, John believes
that an attempt to reunite with his brother may be the spark that
will ignite his comatose muse and bring him literary kudos.

When John arrives in Iowa, carrying his father's violin as a sort
of peace offering, he learns that, like him, his brother has
created a life for himself. Unfortunately, that life involves the
white supremacist movement. In another unsettling and totemic
scene, three of his brother's comrades try to intimidate John. Very
quickly, the rest of John's life moves out of his control --- and
leads him back to where it all began.

Several reviews of Tom Piazza's MY COLD WAR have noted that its
conclusion is much deeper than its beginning. I wonder if this
wasn't precisely Piazza's intent. Like a New Historicist critic who
starts with a scrap of paper and interpolates an entire cultural
milieu, Piazza has given us a protagonist whose fragmented life
gets its own Kodachrome moment. That moment may not be perfect, but
unlike the photographs of icons that Delano has lived with, it
belongs to him alone.

Reviewed by Bethanne Kelly Patrick on January 22, 2011

My Cold War
by Tom Piazza

  • Publication Date: September 1, 2003
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Harper
  • ISBN-10: 0060533404
  • ISBN-13: 9780060533403