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Household Saints

Household Saints


After a long break, I’ve returned to Italy and am slowly gearing up again with this blog. My first entry is a book review that bridges New York (my home) with Italy, where I’ll live for a while. It was originally written for Open Road Media, an e-book publishing company that makes some print-only or out of print books available for download on various devices. I loved the book, and am now a die-hard Francine Prose fan. I hope you enjoy the review, and if you do, you can purchase it here.

Here’s my original review:

Household Saints, by Francine Prose

For anyone who’s read light-as-panna cotta romance novels, Francine Prose’s Household Saints, originally published in 1981, begins with what seems like a genre staple: Italian-American butcher Joseph Santangelo wins his wife in a card game. But within a few pages it’s clear that what Prose has created is not just a meet-cute but instead a colorful meditation on luck and love, family and faith, set against the backdrop of New York’s Little Italy in the years following World War II.

Joseph lives with his domineering and superstitious mother, who makes the much-in-demand sausage sold in his shop. While it seems Joseph is at first ambivalent about winning young Catherine Falconetti, who’s put up by her father (which only adds to her family’s reputation for bad luck), the proposal is accepted by a bewildered and naïve Catherine, and evolves into a long-lasting love match.

The marriage infuriates Joseph’s traditional Italian mother, however, and soon the new family is struggling to blend domineering Mrs. Santangelo’s superstitions with Catherine’s evolving sensibilities, such as her love of celebrity rags, or failings; she’s a terrible cook. Joseph is left to referee.

Once their daughter Theresa is born, the vivid novel moves farther from the delicious details of the Santangelos’ neighborhood streets—where old-school advice clashes with the modernizing New York around them—into the otherworldly mind of a girl obsessed by living a life that emulates her own name-saint, Theresa. Their daughter’s severe and single-minded spirituality at turns irritates and confuses her parents.

The novel builds to an unexpected and shocking conclusion that, while as satisfying as a home-cooked meal, nevertheless leaves one wondering about the meaning—or possibility—of miracles. —Lisa Chambers