At 110, with no family, old and alone, it’s not surprising Lucia Grandi laughs when the young student asks if she can write her life story. “Time was endless for me now at the end of my life,” Lucia muses, and the rest of this novel tells of that time’s genesis, Lucia’s early years. Susan Speranza’s Lucia Grandi pulls the reader in with natural voice, clear eyesight and description, convincing dialog, and believable motivations and memory… plus a few surprises. From the narrator’s first confusion over whether her new friend is real, to the last words of her history of The Early Years, there’s a magical hint of unreality behind perfectly convincing detail, and truth behind newly remembered fiction. Lucia’s father told tall tales to his oldest child, the perfect, joyless Lynn. So perhaps it’s only fair that the younger daughter give memory free reign now. Thus a story of depth and contradiction grows, each chapter bringing a new recollection, of love, war, childhood, ambition and more, each generation with its own great sorrows in the years between the first world war and a young girl’s coming of age in the 1960s and 70s Bent rules characterize this story, bending reality as suburbia rises with its own fictions and dreams, as Dumbo rises from the grave, factories close their doors to their immigrant employees, and powerful nuns enforce obedience in school. The girl who refused to tell lies just to make people like her is now an old woman telling the half-truths of genuine history and complex memory. The girl who kept her troubles hidden in lonely silence becomes the woman remembering all. There’s an intriguing distraction to the writing in this novel. Clear and confident writing mixes individual events, musings on the past, and long explanation as the old woman gazes through the stained glass windows of her life. A hard life, if its telling is true (though, as Lucia says of her childhood “There was no reward for telling the truth”), this tale is filled with genuine detail and curious inconsistencies, great contrasts as story plays a character’s role, art and misery and fierce determination. Chapters built around single events and thoughts inevitably end up repeating parts of the past, but the story flows smoothly forward, is convincingly told, and reads slowly and well. This Lucia wouldn’t be so much older than me I think as I add up the years. I wonder what the rest of her life will tell.
Disclosure: I received a free ecopy of this novel in exchange for a genuine review.
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