When Lynda Lustig met Louie Milito, she was a sixteen-year-old high-school dropout with a taste for adventure and an agonizing childhood. When they were married two years later, he was not yet a made man in the powerful Gambino crime family. Louie was a hairdresser who dabbled in petty thievery. But Lynda was so happy to be out of her domineering mothers loveless house. And over the years, she was willing to forgive her husband for anything: his violent rages, his frequent absences, his shady associates, and the blood on his hands. For twentyfour years Lynda Milito remained loyal to this charming and dangerous criminal -- her childrens father and close friend of crime boss John Gotti and underboss Sammy the Bull Gravano. But in 1988, Louie Milito disappeared, murdered by the very people he had always trusted to protect him. A crime story, a family story, a love story, Mafia Wife is the shockingly intimate, brutally honest tale of a survivor -- and of the life she lived in the dark bosom of the underworld.
The seamy world of the Gambino crime family first took book form thanks to notorious turncoat Salvatore"Sammy the Bull" Gravano, who told his story to Peter Maas for the 1997 Underboss. Linda Milito, the long-suffering wife of Sammy's partner Louie Milito (murdered in 1988 under Sammy's orders, Linda maintains, though Sammy"told the feds it was John Gotti's idea"), now tells her own tale of the mob life, as seen from the home front. Hers is not a glamorous account: she documents her husband's rise from a petty crook who robbed pay phones to a"straightened out" tough who became a captain with the Gambinos. The grinding monotony and terrible strife of her existence--struggling to make money legitimately while her husband languished in jail, trying to protect her son from bullies, coping with terrible physical abuse--is chilling. The image-conscious"wiseguys" that formed her social circle (and who are rather hilariously obsessed with The Godfather) become pitiable figures, trapped in a cycle of murder and deceit. On the whole, Milito manages to tell her story unflinchingly, without sounding self-pitying, even as she details her mental illness and her current abusive relationship. Collaborator Potterton does an excellent job of keeping the narrative running smoothly, organizing the tangle of names and connections, and maintaining Milito's honest and streetwise Brooklyn voice. 8 pages of photos not seen by PW.