By Ekta R. Garg
May 9, 2012
Rated: Bypass it
Two families become as entangled as the title’s pasta namesake in post-World War II New Jersey as they try to navigate marriage, births, and even murder. Sprinkled with a reasonable amount of Italian that lends authenticity to the characters, author Rose Marie Boyd’s book, The Spaghetti Set: Family Served Italian Style, will make readers smile in places but will also leave those same readers feeling a little rushed. A leisurely European meal this is not.
The book opens on a ship as readers meet Teresa Camara and her brother, Antonio, as they travel from Italy to New Jersey to join their father in the United States. Having left Europe behind several years earlier, Signore Camara finally has sent for his two children and they spend the last of their journey across the ocean talking about the possibilities that life in America holds for them.
In addition to the Camaras, readers meet the Matteo family. The Matteos have settled into life in America, and the Matteo siblings do what they can to stay out of each other’s hair while living together: Franco (Frank) and his wife, Geneva; Patrizia (Patricia) and her husband, Jake; Iago (Iggy) and his wife, Anna; Macbetto (Mack); and Giulietta (Juliet.) Heading the Matteo clan is the widowed Signora Matteo, who ignores her children’s protests and insists on calling them by their opera-inspired names.
Predictably the two families meet when the Camara brother-and-sister duo, Antonio and Teresa, move into a home not too far from the Matteo residence. A major section of the novel revolves around Teresa and Matteo brother Mack and their love story. Despite a medical condition and an unplanned engagement, Mack doesn’t hesitate to advance where his heart takes him and Teresa reciprocates his love.
Another section of the novel offers the subplot of bad boy Iggy and his shady deals. Convinced the easy road will earn him money to keep his debts down and his demanding, nagging wife, Anna, satisfied, Iggy does what he can to earn a quick buck. Eventually, however, Iggy gets in way over his head.
Other subplots focus on the remaining Matteo siblings as well as Teresa’s brother, Antonio, and their many trials. While experiencing The Spaghetti Set, readers will feel like they’re sitting at a long table with the stereotypical Italian family: everyone talks too loud and no one really hears everything the others are saying.
In the same fashion author Boyd’s characters compete with one another for the attention of the readers, and the result is that readers don’t get to spend enough time with any one character or pair of characters to develop a bond. The story rushes to get from one major plot highlight to the next without giving readers any downtime or simple narrative to adjust to each twist. The book could have used some deft editing and a more measured pace.
Part of the problem arises in having so many characters, and Boyd’s story would definitely have benefited from less “pasta” and more “meat”—less characters and more about each of them. Readers don’t know quite who to listen to, and the characters all talk so much that it diminishes the dramatic impact of major events. Boyd also allows her narrative to dominate when she could have let the events and characters tell the story, providing too much “tell” and not enough “show.”
Also, her story in places may ring inaccurate when it comes to the historical authenticity of certain things. About halfway through the book in a hospital scene a nurse uses a defibrillator to shock a character. But according to Merriam-Webster online, the first use of a defibrillator occurred 1952, five years after the book’s setting. Likewise, a few pages later, a minor character in police custody asserts, “I know my rights!” alluding, readers must assume, to the Miranda rights read to all those accosted by police. But the Miranda rights weren’t first used until 1972.
These small facts don’t necessarily detract from Boyd’s main story, but, again, they provide examples of the need for a good editor or proofreader. Had Boyd allowed her editor to delve deeper into the manuscript, the result would have been a fantastic read. Elements of humor and some symbolism may have readers nodding along and wanting to know what happens with regards to some situations. But the story needs more cohesion and a single final climax, something I sorely missed.
What the ratings mean:
Bookmark it!–Read this book and then buy it and add it to to your own collection. It’s definitely worth it!
Borrow it–Check this one out from the library; it’s a worthy read, but think twice before spending your hard-earned money on it.
Bypass it–Free time is precious. Don’t spend it on this book!