Top critical review
The Sorrows (and Joys) of Young Lucia
on 21 September 2012
I bought this novel because of my love of all things Italian and my interest in immigrant communities - and because I liked the look of Trigiani's other novel about Italian immigrants, 'The Shoemaker's Wife'. I would liken this book to a sweetish cocktail or glass of pink champagne - frothy, fizzy, light but ultimately pretty enjoyable and quite poignant.
'Lucia Lucia' opens with Kit Zanetti, an aspiring (and so far unsuccessful) playwright, befriending her elderly neighbour Lucia Sartori, who invites her up for tea and shows her all the gorgeous belongings she has acquired over the years. Fascinated, Kit asks Lucia to tell her life story. The bulk of the novel is told by Lucia, and describes her life in her mid-twenties in 1950s New York. 'The most beautiful girl in the Village', Lucia lives with her parents and four brothers in a close-knit Italian community (though strangely, her Italian isn't meant to be very good - would they have not spoken Italian at home, bearing in mind her parents were first generation settlers?). Early in the novel, Lucia ends her engagement to a lovely local Italian boy because it will mean giving up her job as a seamstress for a large and prestigious department store, and any hope of having a career - and Lucia is a clever girl who wants a career. (She also realizes that she can't live with her fiance's awful mother!). Determined to devote herself to her work as a seamstress, Lucia is not seriously looking for any romantic entanglements - when a tall, dark handsome stranger called John walks into her life. John seems wealthy, kind and devoted, but also strangely secretive. Will he make her a good husband? What will she have to sacrifice to be his wife? And will Lucia have to choose again between career and marriage? As the Lucia and John relationship develops, things become ever more complicated, culminating in shocking revelations. Along the way Lucia visits Italy with her family (where her brother falls in love and decides to remain in the 'old country' and Lucia discovers art and culture), swops delicious recipes with her sister-in-law, and has an exciting career offer from her co-employee, Delmarr. What will happen to Lucia in the end? Will she become a star designer? A wife? Trigiani has already revealed quite a lot in the introductory section of the book but keeps us guessing exactly what will happen right through the main section of the book. The final chapter shifts back to the present day and - this being a romantic novel - without giving away too much I can safely say that there's quite a lot of 'feel good factor' to end .
I had mixed feelings about 'Lucia, Lucia'. It's not great literature, and some of the writing is a bit sloppy. On the other hand, Trigiani writes very movingly and interestingly about the Italian community in New York, and I found the whole debate about whether Lucia would give up her job or not fascinating (Lucia reminded me a tiny bit of my - English - grandmother, who decided not to stop working after marriage as her family were quite poor, and ended up as a manager in a clothing shop; she has always said how glad she was to have a job as well as a husband and children). I liked very much the passages describing Lucia's relationship with her father and brothers, and with her colleagues Ruth and Delmarr, and loved the section where the family visit Italy and Lucia discovers art for the first time. My main problem with the story was the whole John Talbot strand. To me, John was obviously a rotter from the time he entered the story, and his dealings with money clearly deeply suspicious. Lucia is meant to be a wise, sassy girl from the Village - wouldn't she have spotted that he wasn't to be trusted? And wouldn't her family (not just her dad) have been more upset that he wasn't Italian? And wasn't John, despite his dashing good looks, just a little bit boring as well as everything else? It's the weakness of this major element of the plot that leads me to give the book only three stars; still, it's an enjoyable and lively portrait of the Italian community in America, and I expect I'll be buying 'The Shoemaker's Wife' when it's out in paperback.