Norumbega Park: A Novel by Anthony Giardina, with its beautifully natural and intimately penetrating prose, cuts wide open for examination - pulsating, bleeding slices of life. It is an incisive and intuitive exploration of the most private interior landscapes of an ordinary man and his family...an unhurried odyssey of souls searching for all the fulfillment that life should bring, but sometimes does not.
The story begins in 1969 when thirty-nine year old Richie Palumbo, a middle-class, Italian-Catholic family man, finds his dream house in the lovely but rather exclusive, WASP-ish town of Norumbega in the rural outskirts of Boston.
With unrushed and uncluttered pacing, the story advances to the year 2007 while chronicling the hopes, and the hopelessness, of the Richie Palumbo Family. The old house they take possession of in Norumbega serves as a metaphor for the dream Richie pursues for himself and his family. It is his upward drive toward acceptance by a society that really does not want him, his movement toward the vision of respectability he nurtures for himself and his family. It is a place by which he can define and measure himself. It is his means of making life complete: to fill any fracture lines and gaps between himself and community, to mend any family hurts and pains, to repair any personal emotional disappointments and dead-ends, to fix everything accumulated by a life not fully lived and dreams not fully grasped.
Giardina paints the interior lives of Richie Palumbo, his wife Stella, his son Jack and his daughter Joannie with an unflinching, truly empathetic eye and bold, yet sensitive brush strokes of realism. His focus relies less on intriguing plot twists than it does the profound explorations of the complex emotional, sexual and spiritual issues surrounding common human experience. This can be weighty substance which is not always comfortable in the reading but never the less resonates with truth. Giardina sanctifies these provocative, sometimes awkwardly erotic issues with his honest portrayal of prosaic characters left to examine the conscience for past thoughts and actions, and to contemplate the subsequent repercussions - all in the pursuit of personal fulfillment, greater self-understanding, and spiritual completion.
The weightiness of intimate issues such as love, sexuality, marriage, parenthood, childhood, education, career, vocation, success, failure, illness, aging, suicide, death comes not from complexity in plot or concept or characterization, but from the depth of detail in terms of what each character is experiencing and how open they are to the experience.
Richie's wife Stella for example, during an enormously challenging spiritual crisis later in her life, experiences a profound opening during a state of hopelessness about which she articulates ever so beautifully and memorably - "There is something that exists after guilt. Something important. Listen to it." - an observation allowing the reader access to a most personal moment in Stella's private reflection, a moment which opens up to the opportunity of redemption by which we, the reader, can also derive special grace.
Norumbega Park: A Novel is above all a novel about the odyssey of the human spirit during a lifetime and should appeal to both male and female readers alike. As for myself, I find with each day that passes since I've finished reading this tender and heartfelt novel, that more and more of an emotional response is rising to the surface. And as I continue reflecting on this novel and processing my lingering thoughts about its themes, my appreciation for it only broadens and deepens.
Although it is not always a comfortable reading experience, it is always a worthy reading experience.