The Sicilian: a novel

Guiliano’s belt buckle with lion and eagle on front of “The Sicilian”
The belt buckle is Turi’s

Michael Cordelone, exiled to Sicily at the end of Mario Puzo’s novel The Godfather, is about to return to the US at the beginning of The Sicilian.

His father has ordered Michael to bring Salvatore “Turi” Guiliano to America with him.

Turi has been a bandit in the Robin Hood tradition since his teens. He is idolized by the poor for his opposition those who keep them poor: the government in Rome, the Mafia, the Catholic Church hierarchy, the police.

For seven years, Turi and his band have lived in the mountains, from which they raid and escape. Now Turi’s enemies seem to be joining forces against him.

Why does his father want Michael to help Turi?

How are the police and army getting information about Turi’s movements?

Can Michael get Turi out of the country before his enemies kill him?

Who cares?

Turi and the other characters are about as plausible as paper dolls.

There are a few tidbits of interesting Italian history in The Sicilian but the story is a bore.

Just as he did in Fools Die, his second attempt to recreate the success of The Godfather, in The Sicilian Mario Puzo produces an entirely forgettable novel.

The Sicilian: a novel by Mario Puzo
Linden Press/Simon & Schuster. 1984. 410 p.
1984 bestseller #3. My grade: B-

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

Fools Die: Readers suffer

Fools Die is by The Godfather author Mario Puzo.

Dust jacket of Fools Die has black text on white front, white text on black back.
The figure on Fools Die resembling a 1930s detective isn’t one.

Whereas The Godfather, despite its massive list of characters, was tightly focused and well-constructed, Fools Die is a collection of episodes about casual acquaintances, all of whom have appeared under other names in other novels by other authors.

The story begins in Hotel Xanadu, a Last Vegas gambling resort where four strangers meet at the tables.

One of them, Jordan, almost breaks the bank. Before the other three can hustle him out of Sin City’s temptations, Jordan shoots himself.

The others separate, but Cully and Merlyn keep in touch.

Cully goes to work for the Xanadu’s owner-operator; Merlyn goes back to New York to his wife, his boring job, and the novel that’s going to make him famous.

After that about a half-dozen stories compete for attention as the two men go their separate ways, meeting only when one of them needs a favor he can get from no one else.

A Paul E. Erdman or Arthur Hailey could have made the gambling industry interesting.

Puzo doesn’t.

He doesn’t make his characters plausible either: They sound like character sketches by graduate students in a seminar on a novel, complete with confusing sentence constructions and cringe-worthy grammar.
Let Fools Die alone.

Fools Die by Mario Puzo
Putnam, ©1978. 572 p.
1978 bestseller #3. My grade: C-

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

My picks of the 1969 bestsellers

The three bestsellers of 1969 that retain the most value for 2017 readers each deal in very different ways with family relationships: The Godfather by Mario Puzo, Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth, and The Promise by Chaim Potok.

The Godfather is first a father.

I suspect  The Godfather is known as a Mafia thriller because more people saw the film than read the novel.

There’s certainly enough blood and gore in the book to make an emergency room crew feel at home, but the deeper stories of family, culture, and crime-as-a-business are more important.

Don Vito Corleone quote on need to treat extortion as a business.

Don Vito Corleone is  getting old. He can’t delay much longer selecting a new CEO of the family’s gambling and extortion businesses.

Mike, his youngest son, has the best temperament for the job. Unlike the eldest son, Mike is levelheaded, and unlike the second son, he has proven leadership skills. Mike also has a proven record of killing when required: Mike is a war hero.

The problem is that Mike got his war-hero status by defying his father and enlisting in the Marine Corps.  Home from the war, he chose to attend an Ivy League college, where he’s fallen in love with a rich daddy’s girl with impeccable WASP credentials.

The novel traces Mike’s journey from rebellious son to his father’s successor as godfather. Becoming a mob boss was never Mike’s wish, but his upbringing and personality make it inevitable.

Along the way, readers learn about the European Mafia operated for centuries as an elaborate system of interpersonal favors before becoming an international business operation in the twentieth century.

The Promise

Compared to The Godfather, The Promise may seem tame, but it deals with incidents that, although bloodless, are emotionally lethal.

Quote from The Promise saying each generation fights same battles with different people.

The story, like Potok’s earlier bestseller The Chosen, focuses on Reuven Malther and Danny Saunders, two brainy Jewish boys whose fathers are each rabbis.

Reuven, who has always had a close relationship with his father, is studying to become a rabbi himself. Danny, whose relationship with his father was emotionally distant, has rejected the rabbinical life and is a doctoral student in psychology.

The relationship between the two friends becomes strained when Danny recommends a radical treatment of a disturbed young boy to whose family Reuven introduced him.

Reuven finds Danny’s isolation treatment, so reminiscent of Danny’s own upbringing, as appalling as he had earlier found Rabbi Saunders’ refusal to interact with Danny.

Reuven also finds himself out of sympathy with his own father, an unfamiliar and upsetting experience.

Like the Godfather, The Promise places twentieth century characters in situations firmly rooted in centuries-old culture. They all have to figure out how to fit their heritage and their ideals into a world they are reluctant to belong.

Portnoy’s Complaint: Too much family

self-deprecating quote from Portnoy

Portnoy’s Complaint is related by Alexander Portnoy to his psychiatrist.

Alex has no end of problems, all of which he blames on his parents. Had they never had him, he would have been fine.

Even with his psychiatrist, Alex attempts to disguise the extent of his misery under a barrage of wisecracks.

Alex is so funny, it’s hard to imagine even a psychiatrist failing to laugh at his jokes.

But it doesn’t take a shrink to see that Alex is a seriously damaged individual—and his parents probably had a big role in that.

The question is whether Alex has enough willpower to try acting differently than he learned to do as a child.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

 

The Godfather: Gory story, great storytelling

cover of Godfather shows puppeteer
Manipulating people is what The Godfather does.

As one of the 32 people in America who hadn’t seen the film version of The Godfather, I was pleasantly surprised that the novel is not just another gory Mafia story.

Mario Puzo’s story is solid: It’s packed with more characters than a casting call, each of them interesting variations on familiar gangster-film types. The characters and fast-paced plot never let attention drag.

The Godfather is Don Vito Corleone, a well-to-do olive oil importer hoping one of his sons will take over the family business, which is a front for a gambling and extortion empire in New York City.

His eldest, Sonny, is keen on taking over, but too impulsive for the job; second son, Fredo, lacks leadership.

Michael, the youngest son, defied his father by entering the Marine Corps, became a hero, left the military for Dartmouth College, where he met an all-American WASP, whom he wishes to marry.

The outside story is about how Mike becomes head of the business and steps into his father’s role as Don.

The underlying story is about the culture people carry with them, a mindset and values that are resistant to geography and time.

The novel is worth rereading in 2017 for that underlying story alone.

The Godfather by Mario Puzo
G. P. Putnam, 1969. 448 p. 1969 bestseller #2. My grade: A.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni