The early 20th-century Italian-American experience has
provided the basis of an extraordinarily rich literary vein that
rewardingly continues to be tapped. From Mario Puzo to Supreme Court
Justice Samuel Alito -- via film directors Martin Scorsese and Francis Coppola
-- various auteurs have vividly etched and recorded the Italian immigrant
assimilation into American life in their own disparate
Lesser known figures have also made their
contributions. The latest and most welcome to
emerge is first-time novelist Anthony DiPello, who in The Brooklyn
Iceman tracks the rise of a humble, vintage 1910 delivery man in
Brooklyn. DiPello's novel is a pleasure to read because of the directness
and succinct quality of its style. Once started, it is well nigh
impossible to put down.
DiPello follows the rise of one Vincenzo Castella, a
determined and intelligent man who confronts with dispatch almost every
economic hurdle put in his path. One of The Brooklyn Iceman's many
pleasures is the description of how protagonist Castella as an unlettered
immigrant copes with various material challenges -- getting and
keeping a job, managing greedy, short-sighted and sometimes corrupt
bosses, and protecting his fellow workers through job-related (but
not necessarily union sanctioned) organization -- while at the same time
maintaining an almost atavistic sense of personal integrity.
The Brooklyn Iceman's economic fears and personal
desperation in those early days are almost palpable in the novel.
Castella's story is at heart a story of survival in punishingly harsh
circumstances. Also, it should be pointed out the The Brooklyn Iceman's
protagonist is not some murderous psychopath in the making. Instead
he is a figure playing the hand he is dealt as decently as he can.
Yes, the novel is explicit (and most suspenseful) in its
recording of Castella's dealing with mob figures. And yes, depictions
of his sexual misadventures are fully recorded.
What makes The Brooklyn Iceman special, though, is that
its author -- in his former day job -- was a successful entrepreneur
and businessman who in his own way and time faced many of the same hurdles that
confronted Vincenzo Castella in his. That experience lends the novel a
genuinely authentic feel. It's hard to find a false note in Castella
or in The Brooklyn Iceman.
Over the course of some seven decades, Castella rises to an
economic and social position of dignified security, yet ... and yet.... the
- Frank Segers