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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

February 1st

Book & Publishing News:

* Mention of the FILM “True Grit” last week – and Charles Portis’ excellent little book [1967] of that name – reminded me of a couple of other contemporary American writers in the “Western” vein: Larry McMurtry [“Lonesome Dove” and Duane series, the latter beginning with “The Last Picture Show”, Bogdonavich’s film of which featured Jeff Bridges in a minor role!]…Jim Harrison [“Legends of the Fall”, etc.], Cormac McCarthy [ “All The Pretty Horses},etc.]. Then there are the ‘travel’ writers such as Jonathan Raban [ “Old Glory”, a beautiful book about his journey on The Old Man River] and William Least Heat Moon [ “Blue Highways”, etc.]

* Les A. Murray ,superlative poet, will be in town next week Tuesday evening at Geelong Regional Library, and Thursday lunchtime at Queenscliff Uniting Church.

* University of Western Sydney’s mag “HEAT” is out this week, and will sadly be the last for a while. Such magazines have fostered numerous Australian writers of essays, poetry and fiction over many years, but are really under threat at present,: as the e-revolution takes hold?

* Melburnians are being spoiled by the offerings at The Wheeler Centre and Abbotsford Convent in the coming months. Lots of FREE events. Find details on the web [or in “The Age”.]

* A Brendan Ryan poem was published in “The Age” again recently. I want to talk to him soon about his Hibernian sojourn last year.

* Poet Robyn Rowlan is John’s guest today. Her newest publication is “Seasons Of Doubt And Burning” [ Five Islands Press] is available from Payton Books, our sponsor,.

* I met with Marg Cooper, Meredith historian, today and will be speaking with her in a fortnight about that lively community’s efforts to record the district’s past.

This Weeks Poem:

* Today’s poem will be FRANCIS THOMPSON’s 1893 classic “The Hound Of Heaven” which I referred to when reviewing “Notorious” last week. Thompson may now be regarded as a one-hit wonder, but his “Metaphysical” religious epic had considerable influence on a whole generation of British writers, not least Graham Greene.

This Weeks Review: “The Deeds Of My Father” by Paul David Pope

Do you recall your excitement when you read “The Godfather” back about 1963? We had never seen anything like it. Copies were passed around, even interstate [ in my case as my Geelong mate sent it to me in Western NSW!] Since then, we’ve been deluged by tales – true and apocryphal – about The Mob in all its computations, from “The Valachi Papers” to TV’s sundry “Underbelly” efforts […or HALF-efforts?] Today’s book is a stand-out, amidst the recent crop anyway – though the recent “Mafia Son” was darn’ good, too.

Listen to what JOE PISTONE [the real ‘Donny Brasco’] wrote: “The Popes became arguably the most successful Italian-American family ever to arrive on [America’s] shores….Generoso, amassing power in New York only few years after arriving in new land; and Gene, like Michael Corleone, the youngest son, the favoured one, finding an audience of millions [for “The National Enquirer”] in the grocery checkout aisle….an American saga.” The story itself is amazing. Sicilian peasant, Generoso, times his arrival in the Big Apple with the mushroom growth of that city – and ‘falls into’ the sand-and-concreting business. The author is his grandson, and he is an excellent reporter. Obviously they had to extemporize at times, particularly in regards to his grandfather’s Sicilian life. Throughout this excellent slice of American history, Pope continually sets events firmly in the historical and political context of 20th century, USA. And, of course, his ancestors were conscientious in developing suitable relationships with the relevant characters moving through that history. Never quite illegal, their machinations enabled them to stay just ahead of whatever financial or moral examen that might be in the offing.

The author never shrinks from the darker side of his grandfather’s [in particular because Gene is his main target] life, Gene was favoured well ahead of his older siblings which brought him rewards but also the lifelong wrath of his grandmother.
Meanwhile the financial cooperation of Gene’s actual godfather, gangster Frank Costello, was vital in his securing the struggling “Weekly Enquirer” [as it was then]. The family were fiercely anti-union, probably because this was an Italian response to the Irish/Catholic control of ‘industrial relations’ in New York through the operations of Tammany Hall. Late in the book, Paul provides a neat but devastating psycho-analysis of Gene who comes across as the classic passive-aggressive control freak, particularly after the birth of his Down Syndrome daughter. The grandfather had toyed with loyalty to Mussolini – as no doubt many Italian-Americans did, just as he cultivated politicians from either side, at local, state and federal levels. He was a shrewd operator.

Actually the whole second half of this very interesting book is about Gene and “The National Enquire”, America’s most successful tabloid, reaching its highest circulation with the edition which published…[wait for it!] a photo of Elvis in his coffin.
What is it about famous rich families – our Lowy’s, Murdoch’s, Packer’s? It’s all Greek tragedy up-dated, isn’t it?

SCORE: ****

Paul David Pope: The Deeds Of My Father, Scribe pb, 393 pp, rrp $39-95

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