Lunatic Heroes: Memories, Lies and Reflections
By C. Anthony Martnetti
In the introduction to Lunatic Heroes by C. Anthony Martignetti, singer/songwriter/musician/rockstar Amanda Palmer writes, "Anthony is a therapist, and a good listener."
That succinct characterization, included in a moving introduction about her lifelong relationship with Martignetti, whom she has known as a "mentor," "guru," [and] "best friend" since she was nine years old, describes in accurate and deliberate understatement the narrative voice of this powerful storyteller in his book, Lunatic Heroes. The title, which refers to his boyhood family, in reality, of course, describes all of us who suffer as fellow captives in the Human Condition.
This collection of stories both long and short amounts to a memoir of Martignetti's youth, growing up in the outskirts of Boston amid his Italian-American forebears. A sensitive boy who often felt isolated and outcast, his innate discomfort and alienation was reflected in early habits of nail-biting, self-afflicted hickeys, and a general resistance to most of the food his family routinely ate, "including, but not limited to: whole-roasted goat head ... pigs' feet, congealed blood pie, baby cow stomachs ... [and] "[g]arlic, garlic, and more garlic, garlic out your butt." As a result he was routinely insulted and beaten by his narcissistic mother, who would at other times smother him in love he craved, but whose mood would rarely last the day without including a dark turn. "Home was the place of love's promise," Martignetti observes, "and also the place where the wounds of love churned."
The stories and characters aren't all dark, some are positively comic (if darkly comic at that), with anecdotes of school friends and extended families and a larger-than-life grandfather who would let young Anthony carry a bag of cash to the bank, while "Nonno" followed behind, loaded gun in hand. The author often manages to strike an ironic if rueful tone even when describing routine lunacies, such as his mother gluing Lee Press-On Nails over his own in order to keep him from nail-biting - which led to his acquiring a taste for the plastic nails, which she would sometimes hand him as a treat when out in public, like giving a child a piece of candy.
Young Anthony's relationship with his father was no less complex, tracking a range of highs and lows that eventually led to his father's confession when "...years later he told me he loved me because I was his son, but that I just wasn't his type of guy." The author adds, "He was my idol, and I needed to be his type of guy." Don't we all.
The best non-fiction literature is that which uses the micro to illustrate the macro, and the compelling beauty of Martignetti's stories can be found in the parallel truths unique to his experience that lie side-by-side with truths that are unmistakably universal, and the tension and balance between the two keeps one riveted to the page. I laughed, I cried ...
In a tale of a mystic and magisterial bullfrog, a longtime resident at the local pond, Martignetti looks back on the cruelties of older boys who eventually trap the animal - a moment in which I had to turn away from the page in fear of impending cruelty - and draws connection and insight between the tragic creature and those Buddhist monks who immolated themselves in protest against an oppressive North Vietnamese regime. Looking back, "The monk who gave his life was a hero to me, as was Bullfrog before him."
Martignetti's super power is the ability to see these connections that are invisible to or overlooked by others, and the simultaneous humor and horror thereby revealed is impossible to turn away from. In recounting a first childhood crush, and its encompassing sense of inchoate longing, he recalls, "I had no idea what to do with her - I was a rabbit chasing a tricycle." Comic or tragic, the author's vision is unfailingly 20-20.