With Valentine's Day around the corner, what better way to celebrate than by curling up with a book titled “Brava, Valentine” by Adriana Trigiani?
Trigiani has written many successful books, including the hugely popular Big Stone Gap novels revolving around Ave Maria Mulligan, a small-town pharmacist and the warm, wacky people who inhabit the West Virginia town.
The Valentine series tells the story of Valentine Roncalli, an unmarried 30-something shoemaker who lives among her close-knit Italian family in New York City. “Brava, Valentine” begins right where the first novel, “Very Valentine,” left off - with Valentine's widowed grandmother marrying the man of her dreams in beautiful Italy.
The entire Roncalli family flies over to Italy for the wedding, including the bride's sister Fern, who does her best to create chaos by getting drunk during the reception and falling down, necessitating a trip to the nearest hospital.
While in Italy, Valentine reunites with Gianluca, the older man she fell in love with on her last trip to Italy. Gianluca makes the leather that she uses to make her beautiful custom wedding shoes at Angelini Shoes in Greenwich Village in New York City. But for Valentine, a career woman, love is a difficult road to maneuver.
Until the recent wedding, Valentine had worked with her grandmother. Upon her retirement, Gram left her business to Valentine and Valentine's brother, Alfred. Alfred is a good businessman, and Valentine is an artist, and the two sensibilities frequently clash, bringing up with them the residual effects of childhood familial relationships.
Trigiani comes from a close-knit Italian family herself, and she excels at the family relationships and scenes. Everyone can relate to the family dynamics that occur during weddings and family dinners, culminating with a Thanksgiving dinner that starts out with such promise and high hopes, only to disintegrate into a truth-telling, secret-spilling train wreck.
Family is an important element in the novel as Valentine finds a branch of the family that no one knew about living in Argentina. She makes contact with Roberta, a cousin who is running the family business, a shoe manufacturing plant. Valentine goes to Argentina to see if it is feasible to make her new mass-market shoe at her cousin's factory.
The author does terrific job creating characters whom the reader cares about. I like that Valentine doesn't have it all figured out, that she struggles with family, career, love and friends. Even the minor characters are real and well-drawn, from June, the fabric cutter, to Roberta, the new-found cousin, to Pamela, the sister-in-law who doesn't fit in.
Tough topics, such as infidelity, job loss, death and racism are also tackled in the novel; Trigiani does not shy away from the tougher things in life we all face. She also does humor very well; you will find yourself laughing out loud when Valentine and Gianluca are almost caught naked in a hotel by her young niece.
Trigiani is a very visual author. Her scenes are so detailed, and they scream out to be made into a visual medium of some type - a film or a TV miniseries. She describes the shoes she creates in such detail that I had hoped to see sketches of them in the novel.
Her trips to scenic Italy and Argentina, her Greenwich Village neighborhood and the extreme home makeover of Gram's apartment above Angelini Shoes by her gay best friend Gabriel are so vividly described, the reader can picture it all so clearly in their mind.
“The living room is wallpapered in cream with a black-striped border. Gabriel has positioned his zebra-print love seats in front of the windows. He created draperies that mimic stage curtains, opulent turquoise silk drapes with black silk braid tiebacks. He used Gram's simple black onyx-based lamps to anchor the love seats.”
Food is another important element in her novels, and I swear you can almost smell the cannolis the Roncalli sisters are stuffing for dessert. (In the paperback version of “Very Valentine,” Trigiani added a section titled “Eat and Read” containing recipes for some of the dishes in the novel - a definite incentive to buy the paperback.)
Readers must be prepared to use all of their senses when reading “Brava, Valentine” smelling and tasting the Italian delicacies, seeing the beautifully designed shoes, and the scenery of Italy and Argentina - it is truly a multi-sensory experience.
Trigiani also pays tribute to music in “Brava, Valentine.” Gram has a collection of Frank Sinatra albums, and the author has titled each of the chapters a different Sinatra song - “It Isn't a Dream Anymore,” “Autumn in New York” and “Polka Dots and Moonbeams” are examples. It's a clever homage to a great Italian-American singer.
“Brava, Valentine” is a must-read for fans of Meryl Streep's film “It's Complicated” and “Sex in the City.” I give it four and half stars. For more reviews, go to http://bookchickdi.blogspot.com
Diane La Rue is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. Her lifelong goal is to read one book per week; she submits reviews monthly for The Citizen. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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