An Italian Wife by Ann Hood (2 out of 5)
Ann Hood’s last book, The Obituary Writer, was one of my favorite books last year. I was hoping it would be a 1,2 punch. Instead it was a kick in the gut. Her extraordinary skills to show the passage of time effectively continues, as do her unforgettable characters. The problem is that there are some characters you would like to forget. As usual, she paints her characters with a great deal of colors, which isn’t the problem. The problem is that some of these characters need to be drawn from scratch, for redemption of their entire character is unheard of and unlikely, given the actions they choose to take in this book. It just did not live up to the expectations I had placed upon it, based on how much I loved the previous one.
This time, Josephine Rimaldi, a fourteen year old girl living a dream-filled life in Italy, is thrust into an arranged marriage with a man she has never met. You aren’t too surprised, as this was the way of many Italian marriages back in the 1900’s. She marries Vincenzo, who really doesn’t do much except treat her reasonably and give her seven children. Josephine’s lack of true emotion toward her husband and their marriage undergoes a test when she engages in a passionate brief affair with the ice man, which ends in her pregnancy. She confesses all to her priest, a man who thinks nothing of asking her to “give her all to God”, meaning letting him suckle her breasts, after she confesses she’s lonely in her marriage and doesn’t want more children. Yes, you read that sentence right. She gives birth in secret to Valentina, her illegitimate child with her now-disappeared lover, and gives her up for adoption, a decision that haunts her the entirety of her life and the book. Her husband Vincenzo passes away from the Spanish Influenza and she has to be the head of her family. She continues to fight with her conscience over giving up her child for adoption, but now she has to concentrate on her children. One of them returns from WWI permanently scarred and not all there mentally. Another of her children is developmentally slow. Another of her children takes Latin lessons from the same priest who told Josephine to give her “all to God”, and that daughter secretly lusts after the priest. Another of her daughters wants to be a nun, at the young age of eleven. The younger children are the only ones who aren’t touched by some fleeting emotional scars. Overall, Josephine has her hands full with raising her kids. Her granddaughters end up messing with drugs in the psychedelic era. It never seems to end. Just when you start to connect with Josephine, you end up wanting to scream at her or her kids for their actions. The book takes us from the 1900’s to early 2000’s, as Josephine grows older and more frail, you get to see how her and the kids’ stories play out. I did enjoy seeing it to fruition, but it was missing a lot of somethings.
I wish I had liked this one more. I was truly hoping it was going to win my heart like her previous title. Not the case, unfortunately.