For the last fifteen minutes, I've been washing dishes and trying to come up with some clever, pithy phrase with which to start off this review. An interior design pun? Some cute witticism or an Italian-esque bon mot? (Can a bon mot, by definition, even BE Italianesque?!?) Forget it. Forget everything. Let me just say this and get it over with: I LOVE ADRIANA TRIGIANI.
There are writers who inspire you in a profound way. There are writers you wish you had as teachers in English Lit 101, and there are writers you want to sit across from at some fabulously expensive restaurant listening to them expound upon Their Craft. Adriana Trigiani is none of these. This is a woman you want to cook with. This is a woman you want to have come over for coffee, and you don't mind letting her in even if your kitchen isn't spotless and you're having a bad hair day. And she's the only writer I know who can create the most ridiculous situations full of completely unrealistic characters, and make it all so darn cozy and interesting and inviting that you never want to leave and you'll willingly believe every word on the page for as long as it lasts.
ROCOCO is exactly this kind of novel. Revolving around a very talented small-town (Our Lady of Fatima, New Jersey, to be exact) interior designer named Bartolomeo di Crespi (who goes by "B"), it's a little story --- no real high drama here --- that, at its heart, is about family and faith.
Bartolomeo is the one --- and only --- designer in Our Lady of Fatima, and everyone who's anyone in town has a home that shows off his artistic flair. He's happily single, although definitely not lacking in female companionship, and his biggest challenge is artfully dodging the clutches of Aurelia Mandelbaum, the richest woman in New Jersey, who's desperately hoping he'll marry her wallflower daughter, Capri. Bartolomeo is a Good Italian Boy, loyal to family --- his sister Toot's family of characters has enough issues to fill a week's worth of Oprah --- and he's a practicing Catholic, loyal to "RC Incorporated." So when his hometown church is finally up for restoration, he's determined to land his Dream Job and bring his Artistic Vision to Our Lady of Fatima, New Jersey.
Naturally, the course of Great Design never did run smooth, and Bartolomeo's project is a challenge from the first. The parish priest, Father Porporino, stirs up a hornet's nest by recommending another design firm; the money to do the renovation has some interesting strings attached to it, and the creative geniuses Bartolomeo finds to help him bring his Vision to reality may very well be his --- and the town's --- undoing.
But all the drama is manageable --- this isn't a novel about high conflict, it's really a novel about family. B's relationships with his sister and nephews, as well as with his dearest friend Christina and his "fiancée" Capri, are the heartbeat of ROCOCO. And while there's plenty of peccadilloes to go around, Trigiani somehow manages to avoid taking too-easy potshots at the Catholic Church: the flesh may be weak, but B's faith --- in the Church that raised him and in his own talents, his family, and his heart --- is strong indeed and genuinely touching, and reminds us that miracles can, and do, happen.
As with LUCIA, LUCIA and THE QUEEN OF THE BIG TIME, Trigiani is a master at creating fanciful characters who feel like friends. Her small-town portraits are clearly fictional, yet so rooted in truths and crafted with such loving detail that you end up wishing you could visit. Leaving no swatch unturned --- there's enough design details in ROCOCO to fill the appetite of the most enthusiastic would-be designer --- Trigiani delivers yet again with a novel that is sure to satisfy.
Reviewed by Lourdes Orive on January 23, 2011