Sparkle Street Press

Herald Tribune Daily Book Review, 25 September 1961 – A Lost King

Just about everybody who met Raymond DeCapite’s folks in “The Coming of Fabrizze,” which brightened the spring of 1960, is going to have to journey out to Cleveland to meet another batch of them in his second novel, “A Lost King.” At the risk of being a shade peremptory about it, let’s call this an order. As the armchair travelers will discover when they get there, it will also prove a pleasure.

No Silence, Please

Mr. DeCapite’s folks, gratified readers of “Fabrizze,” will recall and newcomers will presently learn, aren’t exactly members of his family, but then again they are, in a manner of speaking. They populate the Italian-American colony in Cleveland where he was born and raised. They populate his stories, too, and fill them with food, talk, wine, talk, music and more talk. They laugh and cry with vast exuberance. They are wonderful.

The cast is smaller and less exclusively Italian-American, and the tone somewhat more restrained in “A Lost King” than in “Fabrizze,” that sunlit folklore festival. Some Greek-American and Polish-American neighbors and others have roles in “A Lost King,” and the tale it tells has its somber side. But in general the air is much the same, that of an Old World enclave whose foreigness is fading but still discernible as it melts into the American mainstream.

Why Work?

Thus, it would be startling to hear that there is a good bit of Mr. DeCapite himself in “A Lost King’s” narrator, young Paul Christopher, who has an Italian father, a poet’s aversion to the demands of workaday commerce, a wry Mediterranean wit, and music in his soul. In any case, we have here a father-and-son story that is also the story of foreign-born ;parent and first-generation American American child, by turns tender and comic, to wit.

The old widower, embittered by the loss of a beloved wife, made still gloomier by illness and a daughter’s elopement with a go-getting no-good, dreams that this teenage son will have the success that he himself never knew. The son has other ideas about what constitute the American dream—for instance, playing the harmonica while riding around on a wagon with a watermelon peddler, and thinking about a girl named Peggy. What is life for if it is not to be enjoyed?

He tries, though, to please the father who regularly clouts him across the head because the son loves and understands his father and would like nothing better than to make the old man proud of him. Mr. DeCapite has a lot of rueful fun with young Paul’s struggles with the American economic system–none of them successful, of course, since a harmonica player isn’t apt to be a good assistant butcher and one who is a poet at heart is sure to have his troubles feeding a gluing machine in a carton factory.

This is familiar stuff, you may say, and you would be right. But Mr. DeCapite moulds it into something distinctly his own, partly by way of a simple style that sings, mostly with an unsentimental poignance, an authentic humor born in his people and never imposed upon them. Yes, I think you will enjoy this second trip to Cleveland.

< Back to reviews