Sparkle Street Press

Herald Tribune, April 1961 – Book Review: The Coming of Fabrizze

Shall we perhaps have a ground rule or two, right here at the starting line?

You are an austere reader with a taste for realism and a quick, disapproving eye for the half-smile that occasionally creeps by mistake into those books that make up so much of our literature these days. Even the great ones of the past, if they give way to humor or romance, are not for you.

On this the ninety-fifth anniversary of “Alice in Wonderland,” for instance, you are moved to stick a pin into a helpless image of Lewis Carroll. One midnight is as good as another for throwing a glass slipper at the head of poor Cinderella. Tom Sawyer is a pest. And you can have no use whatever for “The Coming of Fabrizze.”

Enchantment in Ohio

But perhaps you are not addicted to any of these dour notions, in which event you must find yourself delighted with this first novel by a thirty-four year old Clevelander. There is every sign that he really is an irresponsible one, this Raymond DeCapite, who has put on an outrageously sentimental, comic folklore festival about an Italian-American colony in Cleveland, Ohio, back in the 1920s when all the land was a little slaphappy–and no one more so than these transplanted countrymen of the Medicis, Giuseppe, Garibaldi, Christopher Columbus, F.M. Shaine, Enrico Caruso and others whose hearts have belonged to Italia.

Indeed, it is hard to think offhand of any one quite like Mr. DeCapite since the early William Saroyan. You surely remember those crazy Saroyan Armenians in and around Fresno, California. Mr. DeCapite’s Cleveland Italians are their cousins by temperament if not by blood. The wine flows incessantly. The music never stops. You can all but smell the sausage and onion frying right out there on the printed page. A bit of neighborhood gossip takes off like–appropriately–a Roman candle. A casual inquiry after a neighbor’s health glows like a lyric.

Work? What of It?

When they are not tending to one another’s business at a furious rate, some of the colony work on the railroad, but even then they have their own way about it.

“What can we do for him?” asks Fabrizze, the boss of a track construction gang, when one of his crew solicits a job for a compatriot.

“He plays the clarinet,” says the emissary.

“Tell him to come to work,” says Fabrizze. “He’ll play for the men during the lunch hour.”

The truth is, Fabrizze is the boss of everything and everybody in this beguiling haven of song, drink, food and perpetual talk that sounds like poetry translated from another language into prose in our own. Fabrizze, of the golden hair and the big smile, is larger than life, and in general handsomer. Every one in the colony has loved him since he arrived, an innocent from the Abruzzi, under the patronage of his Uncle Augustine, who had returned to the old country, but then got homesick for an American pick and shovel and brought his young relative back with him.

Might As Well Surrender

The matchmakers pursue Fabrizze on behalf of nubile clients, and finally the right one turns up. Even then, the disappointed ones love him. They and all the other colonists love him when he launches a most successful homemade wine business, and opens a grocery store whose every item is straight from Elysium. They even love him when having accepted their money for investment in the Big Market, they discover that Fabrizze himself cannot single-handedly reverse the melancholy trend of October, 1929. (“Where is the money?” his wise wife kept asking as the paper profits piled up. It was a point that escaped many a learned economist dwelling on the Plateau of Prosperity).

You don’t have to believe a word of it, of course, but if you know what’s good for you I think you will give in at once.

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