Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Tale of Lucia Grandi; The Early Years

The Tale of Lucia Grandi; The Early Years by Susan Speranza
Brook House Press, 10/20/2012
Trade Paperback, 426
ISBN-13: 9780944657010

When an old woman is asked to recount the story of her life, she tells an intense and poignant tale about growing up in and surviving a warring suburban family during the 1950s and ’60s.
Written as a memoir, each chapter describes a particular incident in Lucia’s life which shows the constant struggle between her parents and the perverse effect it has on her and the family. From her complicated and unwanted birth, to her witnessing a suicide at age 3, to her stint as a runaway at age 14, the story progresses to the final crisis where as a young woman, she is turned out of her house and banished from her family forever.
Told in breathtakingly beautiful prose, this is a powerful and timeless story of a dying woman’s courageous attempt to come to terms with her past and the troubled family that dominated it.
My Thoughts:
The Tale of Lucia Grandi by Susan Speranza begins with 110 year old Lucia sitting, waiting for something, in a retirement home.
"The world thinks me dead, but there is a lot of life left in these old bones yet. I’ve been absent from the world for a long time. But I’m here. Waiting.
I’m an old woman now. I spend my days looking out on a world where once I have had my play." (Location 99-103) 
Then a doctoral student in literature asks 110 year old Lucia to share her life's story:
"She looked down nervously, as if the reality of my static existence here at the end of my life embarrassed her. Then she cleared her throat, raised her head and looked directly at me, adopting a more formal stance. “My name is Beatrice Cummings. I’m a doctoral student in Literature at the University and my dissertation is –” she hesitated as if trying to find the right words “– my dissertation examines the oral histories of living people, autobiographies, as it were, told by older people…”
A silence fell over the room, as she turned her head and looked at me askance. She continued. “I’d like to know if you would be willing to tell me your –” and again she hesitated “– your life’s story.” (Location 138-144)
Lucia considers her question, and, with the tape recorder humming in front of her, she decides:
"Of one thing I was certain. Whether she was simply a graduate student or some harbinger of life’s end, I knew that so long as I spoke, I could extend this moment forever. For in this one moment I was still alive, I was still safe. And even though I was old, I wanted to stay alive. I wanted to be safe.
But what was I going to talk about?"  (Location 183-186)
Thus begins the tale of Lucia Grandi's life.
The narrative flows just like a memoir and is so well executed that I really forgot that this is a novel and not an autobiography.  Even before her birth, Lucia mere existence was a battle.
"Even then, before I knew my name or was conscious of life and the world, my battle began, my endless war with existence and its cruel, arbitrary nature. Before I knew the word no or could say or think or feel the word no, I uttered it in some silent and long forgotten language: no, I will not submit; no, I will not accept this; no, it will not be. I will not let it be... So I clung to life with a tenacity that would define me, and that awful, continuous struggle with existence would shape every aspect of my life to this end." (Location 253-257)
Lucia is born on June 1, 1951, the second daughter in a volatile family. Her parents, Ruth and Leonard, are at war with each other. Neither of them wants a second daughter. It is into this loveless and sometimes brutal home that Lucia is born.
"So it was on that early June morning, I fell with a thud into this unwelcoming family as if the Stork had played a perverse joke on me and on them – and dropped me into the wrong nest. Thus I began my life.
Even when Ruth and Leonard didn’t intend it, they indulged in irony. So they named me Lucia, which means light, yet it was always the darkness that informed my life. And they named their eldest child Jocelynn which means joy. Yet never was there a child so joyless or so melancholy. It wasn’t really her fault; she was merely a female version of Leonard who was serious and grim by nature." (Location 296-303)
This exquisitely written novel follows Lucia's life up to age 23. As she shares the events that made up her, she also relates the history of several of her family members. Lucia is a girl who learns to keep her mouth shut, but now, telling her story as an old woman, she is free to share exactly what happened and what she thought and felt as she reflects on the events in her childhood.
This novel is presented so convincingly as a memoir that, as I was reading I truly forgot it is fiction. It all seems so true to life. I became totally wrapped up in the reminiscing of Lucia about her childhood experiences and traumas. I grieved over what she perceives the events and various trials are teaching her. I fumed at her parents and their treatment of Lucia. The recounting of the family history and stories concerning various relatives added a reality to the narrative.
I was so totally wrapped up in this novel that the ending came way too abruptly for me and left me stunned. "What!" my mind screamed. "You can't just stop there, in 1974!"
Thankfully, since this is The Tale of Lucia Grandi; The Early Years there will be another novel and Lucia's story will continue. But, it still ended too unexpectedly for me. I do wish author Susan Speranza had eased me into the ending a bit more gently. Of course, the ending also brought me back to the stunned reality that this is a novel, not a memoir.
Bravo, Susan Speranza!  The Tale of Lucia Grandi; The Early Years totally engrossed me and left me wanting more. The writing is so articulate, the characters are so convincing, and the descriptions so real that I was transported into Lucia's life. Apparently, The Tale of Lucia Grandi; The Early Years was formerly published under the title of My Life in Dogs, the Early Years. It was a Quarter finalist in the 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest and was also on the short list of finalists in the 2012 Faulkner-Wisdom Writing Competition.
Very Highly Recommended - even though I wanted the rest of Lucia's story right now(!).

When he realized I was there, he cried, “No, don’t look!” and scooped me up, covering my eyes protectively with his hand as he turned and left the room with me. But it was too late. I had seen, and seeing then became a habit of my life. Never again was I able to avert my eyes, or leave the veil that covers so many truths untouched. So it was on this beautiful Easter Sunday that I awakened to life and to the sad tragedy that is human existence. Location 230-233

She, therefore, lived in fear of the moment when she would be called upon to give an answer or solve a problem or use a skill that required something other than rote memory or sheer force. So she had panic attacks at a young age, and she hated anything and anyone she couldn’t control either through force or memory. It was fitting then that she hated me, for I was quite the opposite, with acute perceptions, an agile mind and a quick tongue that sliced through everyone’s illusions like a deadly sword. I flitted and ran through life; I evaporated and reappeared in front of everyone’s eyes like an insubstantial being. As hard as they tried to grasp me, I always slipped like water through everyone’s controlling hands. Location 336-341

I realized early on that I was simply not the child they had hoped for or even liked. There was nothing I could do, no way I could be that would make them love me. I refused to grovel. Eventually, I came to accept that they simply did not love me, and took comfort in the fact that, unlike Lynn, I was free. So I set myself against my parents and in a larger way, I suppose, I set myself against life itself. Perhaps I could accept the fact that my parents did not love me, because I had the love of the one person who had come to mean everything to me in life. My grandfather. Location 374-379
Bernard was not my real grandfather. Location 382-382
Nothing prepared Bernard for what he was to experience in the trenches of France. Not even life at the orphanage was that brutal. He lived by day and night in a hole in the ground on the Western Front, living like a rat among men and rats in filth and fear. At first, he wasn’t very good with a weapon. He had relied all his life on his fists; but he became more adept at using a rifle and learned to shoot and kill with a ferocity born out of fear and the will to survive. Location 507-510

That night, I learned many things. I learned how little effect I had on anything or anyone around me. That no matter what I did, or said or how I acted or did not act the world would go on much as it always had; I could do nothing to change anything or anyone in the least. That was the night I learned despair. Location 776-778

But oh how wrong both Ruth and Lynn were, as life would prove them. We would all eventually learn the truth of things, that the Bogeyman really does exist and there is something to fear in the night. Location 946-948

But I saw the truth of things early in life. She was terrified. For her, danger lay everywhere. She talked big, but did very little, never venturing from the myriad safe paths in life, until the end when necessity forced her down that most fearsome and dangerous path of all. Location 1414-1416

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from my Kindle from the author and TLC for review purposes. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm so happy that there will be a follow up book - I wouldn't want you forever wondering what happens after 1974!

Thanks for being on the tour. I'm featuring your review on TLC's Facebook page today.