Saturday, August 14, 2010

Monday Afternoon, by Stephen Sangirardi

Monday AfternoonAngelo Aiello.  The perfect name for a man who is quintessentially male, Italian, and Roman Catholic.  Married to his wife, Alice, for fifteen years, and hating every day of the last ten years at least, Angelo has one shining light in his family, and that is his teenage daughter, Sophia.  He teaches English at a Catholic high school, and longs to be remembered as a great American poet, for which Alice chides him.  When he meets Monica at the Stamford Nature Center, he is sure he has met his female counterpart, she also being an English teacher and poet.  They begin an intense affair, which quickly spirals to the point that Angelo leaves his home to live with Monica.  However, guilt hangs on him like a shroud, and every day he attributes things to the fact that he left his family.  How will Angelo come to his own personal resolution?

I always thought I was pretty well read, and had a fairly decent vocabulary, until I read this book by Sangirardi.  There are so many literary references and five dollar words in this book it will make your head spin. I had to give up looking up the ones with which I was unfamiliar, else I would never finish the book.  Luckily, those things just help with the ambiance of the writing, and while I may have been able to see deeper symbolic meaning had I gotten all references, I was fully able to enjoy the book without them.

This is not what I would call a light read.  The subject matter is dark, the characters are kind of repugnant, if not stereotypical, and the text itself is dense.  But it just gets to you.  It hits you in all the right places.  You feel it, you hear it.  At one point, the intensity of the affair in the book was so cloying, I thought I would hyperventilate.  That means the book is good.  It evokes a strong reaction.  A sign of good work.

Angelo's character is complex.  I found that the man I envisioned in the opening scenes at the nature center was very different that who he turned out to be.  And he is very different with Alice than he is with Monica.  With Alice, he is the typical Italian American New York male.  With Monica, he is the poet.  Each would ridicule him for being the opposite.  Angelo has a unique, and fairly skewed, view of faith and it comes into play a lot in the book, Catholic guilt being a huge theme.

Even though I struggled through the book because of its density, I found myself wanting more.  Also, I think, the sign of something brilliant.  Fans of dramatic novels will appreciate, highly literary readers will appreciate due to all the references, and, who knows, some one reading outside their genre might find this and become as overwhelmed by it as I was.

A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher.