Not many authors create enduring icons, and fewer still live long enough to see it happen. Mario Puzo was one of the fortunate few, having seen his novel THE GODFATHER and the characters within work their way into the fabric of the American conscience. “I’m gonna make you an offer you can’t refuse” has become either a hilarious punch line or a veiled threat, depending on the circumstance, and the term “Godfather” has had a special connotation for almost 40 years. Puzo’s classic work, initially dismissed as a potboiler, has outlived its critics, in no small part due to the movie based on the book. Still, the novel has a charm all its own.
"Ed Falco has done yeoman’s work in THE FAMILY CORLEONE, meeting the American legend that is its subject matter head-on and creating a tale that demands to be read in one sitting."
Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola’s subsequent films left some gaps in the storyline. One of these unchronicled periods stretches roughly from the fall of 1933 to the summer of 1935, when Vito Corleone was beginning his assumption of power on the streets of New York. THE FAMILY CORLEONE, based on a film script written by Puzo before his death, tells that story. It builds upon what has gone before while also adding to the Corleone mythos.
This early snapshot of the Corleone family is fascinating to one who has followed their chronology from the beginning. Vito is amassing a fortune in the olive oil business, making grocers throughout New York offers they can’t refuse and creating a monopoly as a result. He believes that his family is unaware of how he is making his living, and indeed, middle son Fredo and youngest son Michael, both still in grade school, are too involved in their brotherly squabbles to really notice what is going on around them. Daughter Connie is still a toddler.
It is Vito’s oldest sons --- Tom, the adopted orphan, and Santino --- who cause him the most difficulty. Santino (Sonny) and a small group of compatriots have been brazenly hijacking liquor shipments from one of the other families and selling the spirits to the fearsome and unpredictable Luca Brasi. Tom is involved with Brasi’s mistress, which is a certain death sentence for him should Brasi find out. In the meantime, the Irish gangs, pushed out of their once-lucrative areas of vice by the influx of the Italians, plot to regain their power in New York even as the Italians plot against each other.
As with previous installments of this epic tale, Vito Corleone’s savvy intelligence and guile are on full display and in operation. Even as the first steps of empire building are in place, the initial cracks in the foundation are revealed as well. THE FAMILY CORLEONE further fleshes out stories and events that were related anecdotally to THE GODFATHER and the movie trilogy. The most chilling of these involves Brasi, who demonstrates that he operates on a plane far outside of civilized behavior. The passage will leave you gasping for breath when you reach it.
Ed Falco has done yeoman’s work in THE FAMILY CORLEONE, meeting the American legend that is its subject matter head-on and creating a tale that demands to be read in one sitting. We already know how it turns out (at least most of it). But it’s how Falco and Corleone get from beginning to end that makes this journey a riveting and twisting ride.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on May 17, 2012