That’s Amore
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Despite its flaws, I really found myself liking Wendy Markham’s That’s Amore. It could be because it’s set in Queens, New York, and I was born in Queens. Or it could be because the story revolves around a large Italian-American family, and I could see a lot of my own Italian-American family in it. For whatever the reason, though, I found That’s Amore to be a sentimental favorite—even though it wasn’t the greatest book I’ve ever read.

Daria Marshall sees dead people. They don’t actually speak to her, which I found to be disappointing and even hindering to the story—but, nevertheless, there they are. She lives a sort of nomadic gypsy life, flitting from one town to another, one job after the next, because she “doesn’t believe in forever.” Daria’s parents ran out on her as a child, so she feels that it’s her heritage, almost, to leave, as well.

During one of her wanderings, Daria finds herself staying with her sister in Queens. There, she meets Ralph Chickalini, the youngest of the Chickalini family, owners of Big Pizza Pie pizzeria and the most stereotypical Italian family this side of Everybody Loves Raymond. Ralphie (what sort of Italian is named Ralphie, I ask you?) hates change, but, unfortunately, everything in his life is in a state of flux. His fiancée just broke up with him. His father, Nino, the beloved patriarch of the family, suddenly died recently, leaving the future of Big Pizza Pie and the family home up in the air.

The book leads us to believe that Nino’s ghost brings Daria and Ralphie together, but it could really be just a big coincidence. Either way, after meeting Daria, Ralphie realizes that change isn’t always bad, and Daria realizes that maybe she does, in fact, believe in forever.

There were a lot of things that Markham got right in this novel. I enjoyed her depiction of the Chickalini clan, even if they’re a bit one-note (we Italians can often seem like a caricature of ourselves anyway). Yes, they’re loud and fussy and nosy, but they’re also fiercely loyal and loving. Markham got a lot of the traditions right, too—such as a huge family dinner on Sundays, after which the women do the cleaning up while the men get to doze off in front of the game in the living room. And, as a native New Yorker, I loved hearing about a lot of the old places where I used to go as a child, such as the beach at Far Rockaway. However, the book would have turned out better if Markham had concentrated on a few other things than lasagna and braciole (though I make a killer braciole, if I may say so myself).

As I mentioned above, we’re supposed to think that Daria’s ghosts play a huge role in her life, but they don’t, really. I would have preferred to see her as a Jennifer Love Hewitt type of person, interacting with the ghosts and helping them find their way to the other side. Instead, the ghosts never talk with Daria, and they’re often just there.

There’s also a huge plot point, involving Ralphie’s “nephew,” which goes unanswered until the very end of the book. Markham tries to tie up all of her loose ends in the last chapter of the book, but it would have been better to tackle them as the book progressed.

And, on a sort of nit-picky note, I had a problem with many of the names Markham chose, because none of them really rang true. I get the feeling that she sort of made names up, thinking Hey! That sounds Italian. Maybe. Sort of. Kinda. I mean, there’s a character named John Fusilli, for Pete’s sake. No one is named after a type of pasta. No one.

In the end, I still liked That’s Amore, but I could just be biased because it involves “my people.” Still, flaws and all, I could see it being made into a movie for the Lifetime channel—probably starring Valerie Bertinelli. Fugheddaboutit!

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