Cover Image: Love and Rain

Love and Rain

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Member Reviews

Circelli’s ambitious work of fiction explores some interesting subject matter. The bulk of the novel focuses on the experiences of Francesca and Micola Benvenuto, the daughters of poor, uneducated southern Italian parents who immigrated to Montreal after World War II.

Francesca, the elder sister, is feisty and determined, greatly influenced by her hard-left-leaning cousin Ottavio, who’s committed to the revolution that promises to empower the working class. In the 1970s, he leaves Montreal to contribute to the “Movement” in Italy, joining the Red Brigade, a terrorist organization responsible for the kidnapping and murder of Aldo Moro, the Italian president. Francesca eventually follows Ottavio to Rome and also participates in the work of the radical group, though in a lesser role than her cousin. She will pay a steep price for that involvement.

Micola, the younger Benvenuto sister, an ethereal beauty, is dreamy and musically gifted. She’s also compliant and obedient . . . until she suddenly isn’t. When encouraged by her charismatic friend, Paolo Richards, who recognizes Micola’s extraordinary talent, the sheltered young woman agrees to sing at a Montreal nightclub. This leads to her being offered a weekly gig at an even more prestigious venue where both Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell have performed. Along the way, Micola falls madly and recklessly in love with a multi-talented, womanizing Jewish musician.

While the Benvenuto girls are permitted to attend informal political gatherings at cousin Ottavio’s house, their traditional, controlling, and often violent father otherwise keeps them on a very tight leash. Their womanly purity is not to be corrupted; socializing with the opposite sex, unless chaperoned, is verboten. Lies and alibis are therefore necessary for the sisters to get themselves out of the house on the evenings that Micola sings. Of course there’s hell to pay when Mr. Benvenuto learns what his daughters have been up to. Tragedy strikes the family.

The account of the sisters’ lives is bookended by the story of another character: Chiara, a youngish woman in her thirties who has recently left graduate school and is at loose ends. Of course, there are still bills to pay. Chiara needs a job (and distraction). She is happily (and conveniently) hired by none other than Paolo Richards. This old friend of the Benvenuto sisters is now living in Toronto and the owner of a flower shop. After years of academic immersion in the philosophy of Kant and Hegel, Chiara finds being in the company of plants immensely restful. She has recently fled a romantic relationship with Daniel Cohen, a young Jewish man, offering him no explanation for her departure and refusing to communicate at all. It seems that the intensity of her emotions for him terrify her. Habitually asocial, psychologically detached from others, and temperamentally predisposed to feeling nothing much at all, Chiara is suddenly set upon by intrusive emotions and strange visions, which may be repressed memories. Images of a fall, broken glass, and blood plague her. Naming her experience the “Thing,” Chiara begins psychoanalysis in order to grapple with the material bubbling up from her subconscious. In time, Paolo, the flower shop owner, will present her with a suitcase of notebooks and letters that will help her make sense of her inner turmoil.

As mentioned, this is an ambitious novel. I appreciated the insights it offered into the culture and experiences of southern Italian immigrants to Canada. Prior to reading the book, I knew next to nothing about Italy’s turbulent post-war period, so I also valued Circelli’s exploration of that country’s “Years of Lead” and her depiction of some of the terrorist activities of the Red Brigade. Reading about the music scene in 1960s and ’70s Montreal was a further bonus.

Having said all this, I must add that there are major issues with the novel that I am unable to overlook. First of all, the narrative is often melodramatic. Occasionally overblown, even maudlin, prose and Circelli’s amateurish characterization amplify the problem. Paulo and Micola in particular are absurdly, even laughably, romanticized. (e.g., After being spirited off from an insane asylum by an angelic nurse, tragically beautiful Micola spends years sitting in a grotto on the Amalfi coast: mute, weeping, and communing with the sea.) Add to all of this a few too many coincidences (most of them courtesy of the magical Paulo), the misrepresentation of the concept of epigenetic trauma (inheriting one’s parents’ past experiences), and a too-tidy, wish-fulfilling conclusion, and you have a novel whose initial potential has been irreparably thwarted.

For these reasons, a rating of 2.5/5 has been rounded down to a 2.

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Loved the cover of this and once I began reading I enjoyed the way it was written. The story moves back and forward in time between Italy and Canada. An interesting read.

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I found the book to be extremely confusing and all over the place. Our main character has a lack of drive and commitment, and she's just extremely unlikable and not relatable. The premise and the cover initially drew me into giving this novel a try. The narrative and main character is just extremely hard to follow or to stay interested in. The way the main character/narrator treats Daniel in the beginning is just almost absurd. I do appreciate seeing somewhat of a mental struggle with our main character but still her thoughts are hard to follow. Sex is the method that our main character uses to avoid her own problems, but I still don't truly understand what led her to this depressive state. We get no character or world building because we're just thrown right into the main character's head. To be completely honest I almost dnfed this book right from the start. Our main character is also judgmental! Chiara as our main character is just an unpleasant overall read for me. Her friends call her crazy but again what caused Chiara to end up this way? We have no context of her childhood to start out with at the beginning of the novel. I would have love to have gotten some history behind Chiara's character in the beginning of the novel and not only throughout. She's puzzled about Daniel avoiding her when she dumped him right at the start of the novel. Again why did she break up with Daniel?!?!? She goes from longing for him to wanting nothing to do with him. Chiara has no passion or drive. Watching paint dry on the wall would be more endearing than hearing Chiara whine about her troubles.

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