Today, I’m pleased to welcome to the blog author and poet, Christina Marrocco! Christina’s first novel, Addio, Love Monster, is available now from Ovunque Siamo. Read through to the end for a specially selected excerpt from the book!
Addio, Love Monster is a novel told in linked stories spanning generations on the “regular” yet remarkable Singer Street of fictional midcentury Mulberry Park, just outside of Chicago. Marrocco transports you fully into this small world where Signora Giuseppa, the “iron fist” of Singer Street, does everything it takes to keep her grown children very near her, no matter what. Where Enrico the widower creeps in the night looking for a new wife in all the wrong places. Where Nicky the golden-gloves boxer wrestles with what he saw in the basement as a child-and Lena, his wife, also wrestles-with how to deal with Nicky’s violence. Each story follows one person, but together they are the story of the neighborhood, a neighborhood that faces life together, whether they like it or not. In these pages you will find humor and sorrow, resentment and adoration, and the churn and change of a neighborhood where everyone knows everyone both two much and too little as time marches on.
It’s sometimes a challenge to appreciate how much place creates people while also understanding how much people create a place. We may laugh at our own connections to our past places and may well fear we indulge in nostalgia, or worse yet, sentimentalism, when we conjure them in our minds or in our writing. Often, we also live in apprehension, in dread that the places we hold close to us will be lost from the physical world. That they will be changed to unrecognizable, that they will deteriorate, that they will vanish altogether under the wrecking ball or backhoe. Or worse, by the new owner of grandma’s house who pulls out her bushes and shiplaps everything in sight. Landscape, buildings, residents, trees, smells, street signs, whatever makes a place can and most certainly will, be changed, in time.
The more inherent things take longer. Some things go fast. So, it is natural that we will hold in in memory and in writing. In literature, a place gets laid down, gets made, and will endure as long as someone reads about it. But more than that, place gets a chance to stand up and be a character itself. A character who interacts with, holds, and likely creates the human characters it holds, and often holds very tightly.
Novels told in linked stories may be the perfect literary space in which to set place as character. There’s room for lush description and for intertwining, even conflating, people and place. That’s a good thing. While writing Addio, Love Monster, I found I could harness Singer Street in Mulberry Park even as it pirouetted through two decades. Note that Mulberry Park is a fictional suburb of Chicago inspired by a few very real ones.
When in graduate school, I “found” and was knocked out by the work of JT Farrell. Farrel wrote from 1910-1940, often about Irish Americans and their lives in a very gritty Chicago. He wrote place so expertly, and his collection, Chicago Stories, leaves the reader feeling they’ve peeked in the window of every house in the Farrell’s neighborhood and gotten an gut-ful as well as an eyeful.
Farrell’s linked short stories set me on the path, but I veered happily into novel, and what novel in story does for the writer is to allow a more distinct overall arc. To have stories as chapters with a sort of character development of the entire place, which may be neighborhood, street, countryside, the parameters are myriad.
The blonde man lifted his trousers from where he’d draped them the night before—over the heavy walnut footboard––in the tiny spare room off the kitchen, in his sister’s flat. The smells of lard and sugar from the donut shop stole in under the sash and made his stomach growl. Five-thirty in the morning, and traffic on the main roads was already vibrating, most of it headed east to Chicago.To the Water Market, to the building sites, to the demolition sites.
At this hour, there were very few fancy cars on the road. Five a.m. and the lawyers and accountants were still in bed snoring. This was the commute time for candy pourers, metal bangers, ditch diggers, gritty men of all sorts. They rode in trucks and panel vans, and
Reinhold Ruhe knew his ilk well. Their collective breath smelled of black coffee, unfiltered cigarettes, and Listerine. They often nicked themselves shaving and wore bits of tissue on their chins until they fell off naturally. They told off-color stories on the way in to work and bounced in the seats of trucks with poor suspension. Normally,
Reinhold would not be among them, bouncing in the seat of Butch Bobko’s old red moving truck, wedged between Butch and another helper, aggravating his sensitive condition. But today Butch would be picking him up late; something had come up. Reinhold hadn’t asked what—Butch was the boss, so you just didn’t. You just made sure you were ready when he showed up.
Christina Marrocco works in memoir, short story, long fiction, and poetry. Her work has appeared in Silverbirch Press, The Laurel Review, House Mountain Review, VIA, Ovunque Siamo, and Red Fern Press. She lives outside of Chicago where she teaches Creative Writing and other courses at Elgin Community College. You can connect with Christina on her Facebook page and her website.
“In rich, descriptive prose peppered with salty dialogue, Christina Marrocco gives us a penetrating look at several generations of a Sicilian immigrant family. Bookmarked on either end of this novel in stories are two tales focusing upon professional mourner and matriarch Giuseppa Millefiore, who teaches her family that “everything dies”-but not before the entire clan loves, laughs, and dips deep into the gusto that characterizes Italian-American life.”
-Rita Ciresi, author of Pink Slip and Sometimes I Dream in Italian
“Joyce had his Dublin, Ferrante, her Naples, and for Marrocco it’s Mulberry Park, where not much seems to happen, and yet something’s always going on if you look beneath the surface. Marrocco finds the extraordinary in the lives of the folk who inhabit this sleepy suburb of Chicago, creating stories of individuals that she forms into a lively word tapestry, capturing days of lives gone by, reminding us that everyone has a story to tell.”
-Fred L. Gardaphé, author of From Wise Guys to Wise Men
“In Addio, Love Monster, Christina Marrocco has created a world that pulses with life. At the center of that life is the Millefiore family and their iron-fisted matriarch, Giuseppa. Set in fictional Mulberry Park, a suburb of Chicago, on the largely Sicilian-settled Singer Street, Marrocco’s novel-in-stories creates a place that is both familiar and wonderfully strange, a slice of a past time where families and neighbors squabble and gossip and judge, but most of all, they share a love that outstrips those lesser emotions. A wonderful first book by an author with a keen eye and a skillful touch.”
-Patrick Parks, author of Tucumcari
“With a unique and captivating voice and astounding attention to details, Christina Marrocco immerses us in the lives of a multi-generational immigrant family with her debut novel. I know well, these people of Mulberry Park, her fictional, working class, Sicilian-American neighborhood near Chicago. In this sharply focused snapshot of the midcentury Southern Italian immigrant experience, Marrocco populates Addio, Love Monster with people as real as it gets. I love this book.”
-Karen Tintori, author of Unto the Daughters: The Legacy of an Honor Killing in a Sicilian-American Family