|In Revere, in Those Days by Roland Merullo|
Everyone in our group had good things to say about this book; even the ever-skeptical B called it “fabulous, the best we’ve read so far.” Merullo’s intimate novel about coping with loss - and failing to cope with it, leaving home and finding one’s place, is full of powerful nostalgic images from 1960’s Revere. References to Orangeade, the kids’ table, and triangular car windows evoked strong responses from readers.
We agreed that Merullo is a master at creating a vivid setting and lifelike characters. We could hear Uncle Peter’s voice and see his tics; we saw it clear as day when Grandmother put the gangster in his place with one gentle, dignified gesture.
Revere itself is a central character in the story. Several group members, treasuring their own memories of trips to Revere and of growing up in their own Italian-American families, felt that local readers would get more out of the story because of our familiarity with the territory. Others argued that the universality of the story and the characters and the skill with which they are described makes the book accessible to readers worldwide. Evidence of the book’s wide appeal came from a member who grew up with grandparents from India, whose storytelling grandfather had a penchant for tall tales. She identified very strongly with the family in Merullo’s story.
There was some discussion about the divergent paths of Tonio’s and Rosalie’s lives. Why did Rosalie fare so poorly? One reader pointed out that merely being a girl in such a time and place came with clear disadvantages. Another referred to the difference in upbringing between the two cousins: Tonio’s devoted grandparents and uncle versus Rosalie’s inconsistent mother and struggling father.
We wondered about Tonio’s black roommate Joey and his sister, Tonio’s future wife. Many expected race to be described as a bigger point of tension in a story about life in the 60’s and 70’s.
If Tonio’s grandfather was the character most widely enjoyed, Lydia was the most controversial. Was the sexual nature of her relationship with Tonio necessary to the story? Was it realistically portrayed? They were both grieving, but it wasn’t a convincing enough bond for many. K wondered how Tonio could recover so quickly after their breakup. JW wanted to find the author to smack him and question his values to his face!
On the other hand, this reader was awestruck by Merullo’s description of Tonio’s grandmother comforting him in the kitchen in the middle of his first night as an orphan. Many wept while reading the scene in which Tonio says goodbye to this grandfather. And we all smiled when DS read a wonderful passage about Uncle Peter:
For a person so constitutionally incapable of bringing any amount of order to his own life … he was in possession of a certain intuitive wisdom that rose into view at difficult moments, a little sandbar of sanity that showed itself only at the lowest tides.
Well done, Roland Merullo.
|Random House Reader’s Guide & Suggested Reading|
|More about Merullo and In Revere, in Those Days