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Advice for Italian Boys

Former National Post columnist (and daughter of beloved CanLit icon Carol Shields) Anne Giardini has hit her stride with her second novel. While her debut, The Sad Truth About Happiness, may have been praised, it suffered from an overabundance of description – as though Giardini couldn’t quite decide which sentence was the best choice, and so used them all. There’s little of that in her sophomore effort, which clips along at a brisker pace.

Nicolo Pavone is a good Italian-Canadian boy: he goes to church a few times a week, respects his parents (with whom he still lives, despite the imminent end of his twenties), works hard as a personal trainer, and keeps his nose clean. In essence, he’s boring, and bored. He knows there’s something more that he should be doing with his life, but he hasn’t quite figured out what, and is just going through the motions until something presents itself.

Over the course of the novel, Nicolo discovers the direction his life should be taking, mainly by carefully observing his friends and family. The secondary and tertiary characters in Advice for Italian Boys are more than mere props; their stories are so enmeshed with one another that any attempt to separate them would be impossible. Any one of these characters could serve as a viable protagonist, and Nicolo’s story takes centre stage without undermining any of the others.

With one notable exception: Giardini employs the matriarch of the Pavone family, Filomena, as a mouthpiece to dispense much of the wisdom that guides Nicolo, though her proverbi often make sense to no one but herself. Her own story is as important to the narrative as Nicolo’s, though it doesn’t receive the same amount of attention. This is a shame. The glimpses of Filomena’s life are enchanting, and it would have been a boon to the novel if Giardini had taken that storyline further.

However, this small quibble does little to distract from the fact that Advice for Italian Boys is a pleasure to read, with an abundance of lush imagery and a range of fully fleshed characters.

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