Sparkle Street Press

New York Herald Tribune Book Review, 31 December 1961 – Paul’s Tale II

Raymond DeCapite has once again chosen to write about an Italian-American family in Ohio, as he did in his charming first book, “The Coming of Fabrizze.” “A Lost King,” however, is a highly personal story of Paul Christopher, a boy unable to adjust to the pressures of modern living, whose relationship with a sick, embittered father are endangered by this failure.

Although told with a vivid gaiety, it is, incongruously, a sad novel. Paul’s mother died when he was young, and undoubtedly her death warped his father’s life. Paul was accustomed to having his mother come to him in the night when he coughed, and rubbing his chest. After her death he went on coughing as if that would bring her back. His sister Nina rubbed his chest, but it was not the same. Finally his father said: “I just made a rule against coughing in the house at night. I’m sick of it, and so I made a rule against it.” My father was worse than medicine,” Paul comments.

His father blasted with fury and sarcasm young Nina’s attempts to take over her mother’s duties. So when she met a charming young insurance salesman she was only too willing to marry him and leave her angry home. Paul and his father lived alone afterwards, in a disorder which Paul accepted cheerfully and which his father seemed to ignore. By the time his father became crippled by arthritis and bursitis, and was forced to stop work, Paul had graduated from high school. He took various jobs in his desperate attempts to win the old man’s affection. Each job terminated with some terrible disaster. Each failure aggravated his father still further though Paul tried frantically to appease him with cakes, wine, a song on the harmonica, or perversely by teasing him. Finally their relationship reached a climax which revealed father and son to each other with a bitter-sweet finality.

Raymond DeCapite has a delightful and distinctive style, and it would be wrong to compare him with other genre writers such as Saroyan or Papashvily, simply because he writes about an immigrant family. His greatest quality is his ability to achieve tenderness without sentimentality. He tells a story in which the characters strive to communicate and cannot: yet they are not dull incoherent people, they are frequently extremely funny–sardonically and exasperatingly so, for behind their wit is the ache of unexpressed love.

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