Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Lucia Lucia by Adriana Trigiani
Having read Trigiani's Big Stone Gap trilogy (quartet, so I discovered), I picked up Lucia Lucia without any particular expectations except a fun light read. I was pleasantly surprised then to discover this really engaging story. It tells a story that is not uncommon but I think little told. All in all, I would definitely say this is my favorite book by Trigiani to date.
Lucia Lucia starts out in the modern day following a playwright who lives in a small apartment in Greenwich Village. She has tea with her eccentric older upstairs neighbor Lucia who always wears a mink coat. You know quickly that Lucia has never married and lives in this building because her nephew is the landlord. The playwright walks into the apartment she discovers an eclectic mix of items including boxes from B. Altman department store and a photograph of Lucia as a stunning younger woman. Asking about the photograph leads into the real story of the book - Lucia's life.
It is the 1950s and Lucia is the daughter of an Italian immigrant. She works as a seamstress for the now defunct New York City department store B. Altman. And she loves her job. She cannot understand the desire among most woman her age to quit working, get married, and have children. A generation too early, Lucia doesn't understand why she can't continue to work once she gets married. Trigiani does a stunning job describing the importance of work for Lucia. She shows how it gives the protagonist a very important sense of self-identity, purpose, and pride. Lucia is not a feminist, but she is confused by the social stereotypes of her world. I liked the placement of the character in her time.
The only thing that frustrated me vaguely was the overarching sense of foreboding. From the introductory chapter you know that Lucia never married. Yet, much of the book is a romance. So from page to page you're just waiting for the bomb to drop. What exactly is going to happen to ruin this young woman's happiness. I wouldn't want the first chapter to have been erased because the end of the story returns to the present and Lucia's resolution to her personal life. So it was necessary to set up the downfall. But, I never like reading a book and just waiting for something to go wrong.
I was very pleasantly surprised by this book. And every page reminded me of a friend, born in Italy who also never married and who lived through the male-dominated world of post-World War II America. A good find and a fun read.