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Very Valentine: A Novel

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Book Description Meet the Roncalli and Angelini families, a vibrant cast of colorful characters who navigate tricky family dynamics with hilarity and brio, from magical Manhattan to the picturesque hills of bella Italia. Very Valentine is the first novel … see full wiki

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Publisher: Harper
1 review about Very Valentine: A Novel

Italian American Heroine Thinks Outside the Shoe Box

  • Jun 17, 2011
Novelist Adriana Trigiani (Lucia, Lucia: A Novel (Ballantine Reader's Circle) depicts a New York-based Italian American family in her first novel in a new series entitled "Very Valentine" with a breezy yet poignant success.

Narrated by the opinionated Valentine Roncalli, "Very Valentine" attempts to showcase the Italian American lifestyle of "large" living with a fashion flair while expressing the angst of many Italian American females who straddle the fence of family and tradition with the allure and glamour of the American Dream. The main character, 34 year-old Valentine epitomizes this dichotomy as she stumbles through ersatz opulent family celebrations where she dresses the part as she fends off well-meaning blows to her unmarried status while attempting to zero in, despite the time-consuming chaos just what it is she wants to do to make her life more complete.

This Valentine is laced with unfulfilled passion that screams to be released from the prison of the expected. As her sisters and brother are married and happily populating the world with little Roncallis, Valentine asks herself if allowing a man to become "primo" in her universe will quiet her restless energy and relegate all her burning questions to the realm of rhetoric.

The traditionalist aspect of Valentine obligates her to the "care" of her grandmother, Teodora, a feisty fashion plate who runs the Angelini Shoe Company with an expert cobbler's precision but without the benefit of thinking outside the custom-made shoebox that will buttress the failing business from the red to the black of financial profit. Valentine's concern for the continuance of her family's Old World craft anchors her firmly and perhaps somewhat narrowly to the busy hive of family activity where before she really gets to know if Roman, the handsome restaurateur, is the man for her, he is ensconced in family parties and get-togethers that seem, in this Italian American's opinion, Valentine's way of saying that she isn't as "needy" as her family may think, as she, too, can rope in a man.

Trigiani's style smacks of the colorful robust drama of "The Real Housewives of New Jersey: Season One" combined with some truly insightful comments regarding the modern assimilated Italian American mindset as it infiltrates the American scene after three-to-four-to-five generations. Her almost silly concentration on the fashionista aspect that consume all the major characters might suggest an Americanized extension of the Italian sensibility of "La Bella Figura." Perhaps, Trigiani means to hone her portrayals with the typical superficiality regarding good looks and behaviors that hold a paramount position in the Italian hierarchy of self-presentation to the world. However, to some readers, this may seem overdone and as downright tacky as some of the "real" overblown characters on the New Jersey Housewives. In particular, Trigliani endows Mama Mike, a Titian redhead with a wardrobe that rivals that of Marie Antoinette, with the vain persona of an aging beauty that refuses to grow old gracefully, but would rather hold center stage even at the wedding of her youngest daughter. Sadly, Trigliani captures this archetype with a deftness that had me wondering if she had ever met one of my mother's sisters who swore that men and women alike thought her resemblance to Wuthering Heights (1939) [Region 2]' Merle Oberon utterly remarkable. All in all, some of the "happy" family scenes seem as claustrophobic as they would be in actual life; the portrait of a mucho Mediterranean love/hate fest wears as thin as having your in-laws over for dinner every night. To add insult to injury, her plug of her novel "Lucia, Lucia," comes off as a bit obnoxious.

Nevertheless, as this "Valentine" installment is the first in a proposed trilogy, it seems fitting that Valentine at the end of this novel is "on the verge." She wins some victories and has crossed a small tributary of the Rubicon, but as good little readers of series already know, more is to come. This Cinderella will, indeed by the end of Book Three, find a shoe that finally fits her every need with a handsome Prince Charming hanging to its 4 inch Florentine leather heel.

Bottom line? In "Very Valentine," Adriana Trigiani introduces her readers to Valentine, the shoemaker's apprentice in a family business that needs an instant financial bale-out plan. As a main character, Valentine suffers from some indecision regarding her self-identity which after 350+ pages of battling family, economic and romantic issues, she seems likely to resolve while retaining her own inimitable style and personality. Recommended as a fun read: Italian Americans beware, Trigiani's descriptions may at times seem dead-on and then again entirely and disappointingly stereotypical.
Diana Faillace Von Behren

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