Saturday, March 10, 2012

Norumbega Park

Anthony Giardina
Norumbega Park

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012

Still young enough Richie Palumbo and his family - his wife and two children - are going to celebrate Thanksgiving, but in the dark Richie gets lost, and the family travels to the town of Norumbega, near Boston. There Richie immediately falls in love with a house and decides that the house should belong to him. Later Richie buys the house.

Richie is one of the top managers at a defense plant. He recently has been promoted, but the war in Vietnam is nearing to the end, and the company should move to a peacetime production. Richie in the midst of changes buys the house from the owner, an elderly widow, at an inflated price.
Thus, we trace the fate of the Palumbo family for nearly forty years, from 1969 to 2007. In the next part Giardina gives us a closer look at the children, Jack and Joannie. Jack graduated from school and must apply for a college or university, but Jack, a gifted, the most gifted person from school, according to his father, is not very eager to study and does not submit an application in any university. Jack is popular among girls and dates with one of them, Ellen. But later at the dance, Jack leaves Ellen and switched to a modest Christina.

Later, Christina goes to the University of Massachusetts, and Jack goes New York to live from the saved-up money. Thus begins a free life of Jack away from home.

At the same time, Jack's sister Joan, who has always been a religious girl, closed and unsociable, goes the other way. She decides to become a nun.

«Norumbega Park» is a very complex novel. Simplicity of plot (the usual family saga, a temporary walk from point A to point B) is subject to the greatness of style and charm of the composition. Heroes do not make as much action as they analyze his actions, repeatedly and from different angles. Each family member of Palumbo family considers the causes and consequences of brief but important episodes in their lives. Giardina raises an important question in the book: how fragments of our lives, mini-events, affect the general course of life, our destiny? Each hero has a few such episodes, and each seems to them the turning point. Stella, Richie's wife, finds her reasons for excessive physical desire first in severe son’s birth, and later in the scene when she sees her son sleeping naked next to a girlfriend. Jack has even more those episodes, from a date with Christina at the lake to oral sex with one of his gay roommates. For Richie new life in Norumbega began when he saw the skaters on the ice pond. The novel ends with his daughter and her husband skating as well.

Each of these microevents is like a lymph node in the novel. To the reader they are emotionally intense and give reason to think: do these episodes really change the life of the novel’s character or is it just the imagination of the character.

Each character is chasing by the past and stays in the past almost always, and no one even tries to escape from the past. Past has a life; there is something elusive in it, what is missing in the present. All Palumbo are passive, they are more likely to think what they have done wrong in the past than to do something in the present.

«Norumbega Park» is a book of mistakes. The one that does not tell us that mistakes should be corrected, but the one that says that the mistakes of the past are need to think about. Full of nuances, the characters are the happiest people on earth and the unhappiest at once.

Giardina is a brilliant stylist, and the novel is brilliantly written, 95% of 100%. The imperfection of the novel lays only in the fact that in a family saga you can not give equal attention to all. If the male characters are very complex there, the women do not have enough space. Joan’s decision to become a nun is not convincing, the author told a little about the girl’s growing up Torment of Stella, her struggle with husband’s loneliness, too, are described briefly.

Such book as this proves that the genre of a family saga is still alive and capable of much.

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