Ever since I read A KISS FOR MADDALENA (2003) and THE SAINT OF LOST THINGS (2005) by Christopher Castellani, I have been patiently waiting for the third novel in the trilogy. ALL THIS TALK OF LOVE has just been published by Algonquin, and it does not disappoint.
A KISS FOR MADDALENA told the story of Maddalena Piccinelli and the love she left behind in war-torn Italy to marry Antonio Grasso and move to America. THE SAINT OF LOST THINGS recounts the building of their lives, business and family during the 1950s.
When ALL THIS TALK OF LOVE opens, 50 years have passed since Maddalena and Antonio have settled in America. Maddalena is now 72 and Antonio is 79. They have weathered a life together in a small town in Delaware, where they still run Al di La, their successful Italian restaurant, and raised their children Prima, Tony and Frankie. Tony, the second child, commits suicide at the age of 14, and it is his absence that looms largest over the novel, particularly for Antonio, who carries a tremendous amount of guilt over Tony’s death.
"Castellani has crafted a beautifully written novel about love, loss, memory, and the importance of family. ALL THIS TALK OF LOVE touches upon all these themes, and the Grassos stay with you long after you finish the last page."
Frankie is the studious loner who is doing his postgraduate work at a college in Boston while having an affair with his thesis advisor. He talks to his mother every night at 11:01pm no matter where he is, fully aware that Maddalena awaits his phone call. When his friends ask him why, his reply is simply, “Because she’s alive.”
Prima, the eldest child and only daughter --- whose life has turned out exactly as she had hoped --- announces at her son Patrick’s confirmation party that she and her husband Tom are taking the whole family back to her parents’ ancestral village of Santa Cecilia in Italy, the village her parents haven’t returned to in over 50 years. Maddalena is adamant she will not return, saying, “Call the airplane company and tell them that I died.” Maddalena has spent a lifetime trying to forget the past, including the love she left behind, Vito Leone, who ended up marrying her sister, Carolina. In the years since, she has never once opened one of her sister’s letters and refuses to talk to anyone from the family when they call on holidays or special occasions. Frankie understands Maddalena’s reluctance to revisit the past and sides with his mother.
What the family doesn’t know is that Maddalena will soon be showing early signs of Alzheimer’s disease and that time is quickly running out to return to Santa Cecilia with her family. Prima’s carefully orchestrated trip is disrupted, however, when she gets into a serious car accident. As Maddalena’s illness progresses and she is no longer aware of what’s going on around her, Antonio impulsively books the tickets to Italy and Santa Cecilia, hopeful that seeing the town and the people she loved who are still left will stir her memories and bring some closure to her life.
Castellani deftly demonstrates the effects of a son’s suicide on an Italian-American family. Frankie is conceived after Tony’s death, and he has carried the burden of filling the emptiness left by the family’s inexplicable loss his entire life. No one can bring themselves to talk about Tony’s death, but they each in their own way quietly honor his life and memory.
“The Grassos --- like most Italians Prima knows --- are different. After you say your good-byes, after you’ve thrown yourself on your brother’s or your son’s body for one last touch as the casket closes, you keep your grief to yourself. The rest of your life is a long silence.”
Castellani has crafted a beautifully written novel about love, loss, memory, and the importance of family. ALL THIS TALK OF LOVE touches upon all these themes, and the Grassos stay with you long after you finish the last page.
Reviewed by Jennifer Romanello on February 15, 2013
All This Talk of Love