Harper - Fiction/Historical
I read The Queen of the Big Time in March of 2006 (pre-blogging by three months) so I can't go back to read my thoughts, although I know I disliked it enough to avoid Trigiani's books for 6 years. However, the storyline of The Shoemaker's Wife sounded so rich and appealing that I decided I had to give Trigiani a second chance.
The book turned out to be a "thumbs up," overall, although there were occasional irritations. I'm going to go for the seriously-casual summary method on this one.
Ciro and his brother Eduardo are left at a convent in the Italian Alps when their widowed mother can no longer care for them. She advises them to do more than the nuns tell them to do so that their presence will be more valuable than the cost of their care and promises to come back when she can.
Enza is the eldest daughter in a family living just a few miles away, up the mountains. Enza works hard to help her family, loves them deeply and feels an obligation to help provide for them.
When Ciro and Enza meet, she is touched by his kindness and he is impressed by her beauty and strength. Things are ticking along just fine when Ciro catches the priest doing something naughty and has to run to America to save his hide (because the priest is such an influential man). Around the same time, Enza's family gets into a financial bind that forces Enza and her father to travel to prosperous America in search of work.
Ciro and Enza do the proverbial "ships passing in the night" thing for years -- Enza always convinced that Ciro likes someone else better and Ciro busy sowing his oats but secretly mooning over her because she's totally hot, deeply genuine and a warm reminder of home. Will they ever end up together, for crying out loud? Or do we have to wade through similes about the stars looking like pinpricks in velvet or scattered diamonds or dazzling glitter till the cows come home?
What I loved about The Shoemaker's Wife:
I was expecting a several-generation family saga, for some reason (fortunately, I never remember exactly what I've read in those blurbs when I sit down to read a book -- I like to go into the reading knowing as little as possible), and that baffled me when I got to around page 200 or so but it turned out not to matter. As expected, The Shoemaker's Wife is a rich and meaty story -- maybe a little too rich, but we'll get to that in a minute. The characters are splendidly well-developed, flawed in ways that are genuinely believable, and the dialogue has a realistic feel, for the most part. If I hadn't loved Ciro and Enza, the nuns and Enza's family, I don't know if I'd have lasted 468 pages' worth, but they made it worth hanging in there through the dreary middle.
I also particularly loved the scenes that were set in Italy and the way the story came full circle. And, I adored this line, advice from Eduardo to Ciro that he didn't understand until later in life:
Beware the things of this world that can mean everything or nothing.
It took me a while to figure that out, myself. Trigiani had to help me a little.
What I disliked about The Shoemaker's Wife:
Great story or not, The Shoemaker's Wife is way the heck too long; it could have easily been cut by at least 100 pages, in my humble opinion. Now, this is coming from a gal who does tend to like fairly spare writing, but man . . . we're talking simile and adjective avalanche. At one point, I was so exhausted by the wordiness that I whined to Facebook friends that it was making my eyes burn and my hair fall out and I was starting to hate my favorite color (green -- Adriana Trigiani apparently is crazy about the color green). My friends humored me very nicely, although two of them are deeply devoted to Trigiani. It's a great read -- don't get me wrong! But, people who are burdened by "editor brain" from years of editing down their own work may be tempted to break out a red pen, just for fun.
Another thing that bugged me was the occasional comment that I thought was remarkably silly, like:
A man who needs a mirror is looking for something.
Geez, or maybe a man who needs a mirror cares about having tidy hair, wants to make sure his shirts aren't off by a button or doesn't want to cut himself shaving?
She also frequently remarked that Ciro, being a sturdily built and tall man, was obviously built to be a leader. Yes, it's true that there's a psychological effect that leads people to look to tall people as leaders, but height truly has nothing whatsoever to do with true leadership ability. There are certainly some prime examples of short but powerful people within the book blogging world.
The bottom line:
Recommended to people who absolutely love to sink into a big, wordy family saga. Beautifully crafted characters, believable dialogue, settings so vivid you feel like you could reach out and touch them and a sweet romance make this book enjoyable. If you prefer spare writing, this may not be the book for you. I was in the mood for chunky historical fiction and I still managed to stall around page 300, but I'm glad I decided to hang in there and finish reading.
A friend hit the sagging middle just as I was finishing The Shoemaker's Wife and I encouraged her to stick it out. She felt the same way I did -- it's too long, but worth persevering to the end. I will not ever be a gushy fan of Trigiani, but I'm glad I decided to give her a second chance.
Cover thoughts - I don't think of Enza quite like that cover image (she's really very down-to-earth) but she does become a seamstress at an opera house and the image fits the drama of the opera house and the fancy costumes. Plus, it's gorgeous. Love the color explosion!
Completely forgot to mention that I love Trigiani's sense of humor. Here are two lines that made me smile:
"Please don't turn into the wife that chases her husband with a broom."
"Monsignor Schiffer already dropped off a vial of holy water from Lourdes. Only a German priest would bring an Italian French holy water," Ciro joked.
Also, now I really, really, really want to go to Italy. Husband has unfairly gone without me twice. This is one of my favorite photos from his last visit: