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‘The world’s bleakest romantic comedy’ — Los Angeles Times
"An exuberant, extravagant chronicle of gestation which romps through to the final production of the Fante's firstborn in high Italianate style and immerses a succession of hair-raising to breast-beating sequences in tears — and Chianti."—Kirkus
"The universe of John Fante’s fiction is so immediately moving, so poetically vivid, that it is hard to decide which is the greater quandary: that it went so long unrecognized, or that in the factitious worlds of publishing and Hollywood it is receiving such enormous recognition today." — Boston Review
"Fante’s disturbing, singular writing stands absolutely alone among American Depression and mid-century writers. He was always the equal, and often the better, of his recognized contemporaries: Fitzgerald, Steinbeck, West, Schulberg."—Neil Gordon
"Charming and hilarious"—Salon
"Fante's best writing ... astonishingly wide-ranging and compressed"—London Review of Books
Dear Reader, if you have ever been a member of a family that has ever been "in a family way" this is your book.
The narrator of this extravagant domestic comedy, who lives in Los Angeles, finds himself a home-owner and expectant father almost simultaneously and both sensations please him. It must be granted that there are certain adjustments to be made. One is to work out an amicable arrangement with his wife Joyce, who changes from a serene and reasonable companion to an unpredictable creature of compulsions and obsessions, furiously resenting any implication that her "condition" (a word she hates anyway) might be responsible. Aesthetically too, Joyce creates a problem for her sensitive husband, symbolised by her switch from a magical perfume called "Fernery at Twilight" to "a kind of Gayelord Hauser cologne, reeking of just plain good health, clean alcohol and simple soap."
But it is the termites' ravishment of the kitchen floor that helps the Fante family in an uproar for the rest of the confinement.
First Papa Nick Fante must be fetched – the best bricklayer in California. At his parents' house, it only take a few minutes for John to become aware that the child expected 'must' be a boy. No two ways about it. Unthinkable for the Fantes to be without a grandson. Against the obdurate reliance of his Papa and Mama on homemade insurance he is helpless: eggs and oysters are fine, but garlic in the keyhole and salt in the bed just can't be beaten.
The return train trip with Papa is a hilarious nightmare, complete with tool kit, wine jugs, salami and goat cheese. Papa Fante is equipped with a violent Italian temper as well, and a sly knowledge of everyone's soft and sore spots, which knowledge he exploits shamelessly.
Back in Los Angeles the caved in floor (it had sunk under Joyce' weight) is ignored and he decides to build a fireplace instead – "for his first grandson." The story of Uncle Mingo and the bandits must be preserved – "for his grandson" – and Papa and Joyce enter into a smug conspiracy that threatens to break up the household.
The sight of the pregnant Joyce enchants her father-in-law. He adored the "voluptuous roundness that contained a part of him too," says the vastly impressed and also somewhat depressed husband. "You could see him tremble before it, giddy with joy, this extension of himself, the projection of his life far beyond the limits of his years upon the earth. I knew suddenly that even the birth of his own children had not held the romance and excitement of this child's coming."