July 4, 1976. All across the nation, people are celebrating the Bicentennial of the United States of America. Against the riotous backdrop of not only the celebration of the century but also a vibrant decade, Ausiello crafts a story of family tension in a working class neighborhood in Brooklyn. From many writers, this would feel like nothing more than a fraught two hundred pages of nothing much happening. Ausiello, however, knocked this one out of the park with his knack for building tension and his skill with voice.
Paulie Agnello’s union is on strike, and he’s struggling to keep enough money coming in to support his family. His wife, Dee, is less the angel of the household and more a force of sheer will, doing her best to keep her husband and two sons on the right track. Her younger son, Alex, doesn’t need much worrying over. (Yet.) Tony, however, is fourteen and has a girlfriend, and seems likely to be on the path to perdition.
The cracks appearing have been building for a long time, as in any good family drama. It will take only a little external pressure to push them to the surface.
Ausiello’s skill in building tension appears with nearly every shift of the plot. Early in the story, I could tell it was building up to something dreadful, some possible cataclysm, and often a simple turn of phrase was enough to make me feel just a little more anxious on behalf of the characters, just a little more certain that what had just happened was the key to some grand unraveling. Not once did events feel unnaturally heightened or overdramatic (and any melodrama felt more like a choice to illuminate a given character rather than a failing on the author’s part). Instead, I felt as though I had discovered a master of foreshadowing.
All I will say about the ending is that it was not quite what I had expected, but it nevertheless fit in with the rest of the book perfectly. From other writers, it might have felt like a letdown, perhaps even deflating. Ausiello was able to carry it off admirably.
I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys family dramas with sharp edges and veins of humor running through them. Ausiello is a fresh, intriguing voice on the literary scene, and I’m eager to see what he writes next. Hopefully there will be many more books to come from him.
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