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on February 13, 2012
Norumbega Park tells a terrific story about the four members of the Palumbo family - father, Richie; wife, Stella; son, Jack; and daughter, Joan. At the start of the novel, Richie, an Italian American, stumbles upon a gorgeous old house in the center of a Waspy New England town and decides, striver that he is, that the house is what he needs to capture the American dream. The problem is that the house isn't up for sale. So he befriends the elderly couple who own it and waits for when it will become too much for them. He does get his opportunity when the husband dies, and he manages to convince the couple's adult son that the wife can longer handle the big house on her own. Moving in, Richie is full of hope, believing the house will catapult his family into the kind of success he imagines the previous residents enjoyed. The only problem is that he has two very mixed-up kids. His son, Jack, has no desire to be anything but a high school Lothario. Later, Jack dreams, as his father did, of becoming something more, but it's a great love - the beautiful, remote young Christina - whom he hopes can bring meaning to his life. Richie and Stella's daughter, Joan, is a shy loner who hides out in her room, afraid of the world, and whose only goal is to become a nun. She follows her dream at a tender age before she's done any living. That decision is a great heartbreak to her mother. The novel runs the course of several decades, from when Jack and Joan are children all the way to their midlife crises, when Stella is gone and Richie is borderline senile. Stella becomes most prominent in the middle of the book when we get inside her head as she battles cancer and lets her daughter know she wishes she had been more daring with her life and not retreated to a cloistered abbey. The descriptions of what plays through the mind of someone going through chemo as they assess their lives and their relationships are incredibly powerful. Still, while I really admire Giardina and was very fond of his story collection, Country of Marriage, I almost gave up on this novel in the early sections. There are some creepy scenes - as a boy Jack shows his sister his penis to "educate" her, Richie acts like a stalker as he waits for the elderly couple to turn over the house of his dreams, and one night when Jack is a teenager Stella lingers outside a room and studies her naked son who has fallen asleep on a family room couch after a tryst with his high school girlfriend. But I stayed with it, and was glad I did because the novel really takes off when Jack begins pursuing his great love - the aloof Christina, who works with his father in the pizza parlor Richie had to open as a second occupation to afford the house he overspent on. Joanie's retreat into the abbey is riveting as well. Giardina does a great job portraying what a religious life must feel like. Even though Joan is, at least initially, thoroughly dedicated to her vocation, she tests the boundaries, and on a walk along the borders of the abbey, she meets a young man she's immediately attracted to, and whom she develops a years-long friendship with as she tries to bring him back to the church. Even for a literary novel, there's often very little action and an awful lot of ruminating from the five characters whose point of view the novels shifts between - the four members of the Palumbo family and Jack's girlfriend, then wife, Christina. Sometimes Giardina's prose, especially early on, gets so lyrical I sometimes got lost trying to figure out what the characters were feeling. But these are minor quibbles. The book overall packs a powerful punch about what happens when the great dramas we expect from our lives don't play out and how we cope when the mundane realities of everyday life take over.
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on January 23, 2014
The idea of someone buying a house in an appealing community in order to feel a sense of belonging had great appeal for me. The story had a great deal of potential, and the writing was good.

But somehow it all began to fray and then unravel and now three weeks after reading the book, I can barely remember what it was about.

That rarely occurs for me.
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Norumbega Park: A Novel by Anthony Giardina, with its beautifully natural and intimately penetrating prose, cuts wide open for examination - pulsating, bleeding slices of life. It is an incisive and intuitive exploration of the most private interior landscapes of an ordinary man and his unhurried odyssey of souls searching for all the fulfillment that life should bring, but sometimes does not.

The story begins in 1969 when thirty-nine year old Richie Palumbo, a middle-class, Italian-Catholic family man, finds his dream house in the lovely but rather exclusive, WASP-ish town of Norumbega in the rural outskirts of Boston.

With unrushed and uncluttered pacing, the story advances to the year 2007 while chronicling the hopes, and the hopelessness, of the Richie Palumbo Family. The old house they take possession of in Norumbega serves as a metaphor for the dream Richie pursues for himself and his family. It is his upward drive toward acceptance by a society that really does not want him, his movement toward the vision of respectability he nurtures for himself and his family. It is a place by which he can define and measure himself. It is his means of making life complete: to fill any fracture lines and gaps between himself and community, to mend any family hurts and pains, to repair any personal emotional disappointments and dead-ends, to fix everything accumulated by a life not fully lived and dreams not fully grasped.

Giardina paints the interior lives of Richie Palumbo, his wife Stella, his son Jack and his daughter Joannie with an unflinching, truly empathetic eye and bold, yet sensitive brush strokes of realism. His focus relies less on intriguing plot twists than it does the profound explorations of the complex emotional, sexual and spiritual issues surrounding common human experience. This can be weighty substance which is not always comfortable in the reading but never the less resonates with truth. Giardina sanctifies these provocative, sometimes awkwardly erotic issues with his honest portrayal of prosaic characters left to examine the conscience for past thoughts and actions, and to contemplate the subsequent repercussions - all in the pursuit of personal fulfillment, greater self-understanding, and spiritual completion.

The weightiness of intimate issues such as love, sexuality, marriage, parenthood, childhood, education, career, vocation, success, failure, illness, aging, suicide, death comes not from complexity in plot or concept or characterization, but from the depth of detail in terms of what each character is experiencing and how open they are to the experience.

Richie's wife Stella for example, during an enormously challenging spiritual crisis later in her life, experiences a profound opening during a state of hopelessness about which she articulates ever so beautifully and memorably - "There is something that exists after guilt. Something important. Listen to it." - an observation allowing the reader access to a most personal moment in Stella's private reflection, a moment which opens up to the opportunity of redemption by which we, the reader, can also derive special grace.

Norumbega Park: A Novel is above all a novel about the odyssey of the human spirit during a lifetime and should appeal to both male and female readers alike. As for myself, I find with each day that passes since I've finished reading this tender and heartfelt novel, that more and more of an emotional response is rising to the surface. And as I continue reflecting on this novel and processing my lingering thoughts about its themes, my appreciation for it only broadens and deepens.

Although it is not always a comfortable reading experience, it is always a worthy reading experience.
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I have not heard or seen much written about "Norumbega Park", which is a shame, because this is my favorite novel of 2012 and such a beautiful and well-written piece of literature. Giardina prose melts with the pages as he tells the story of the Palumbo family. We first encounter them on a family drive in the late '60s where father Richie sees the house of their dreams in the Boston suburbs. He is transfixed by the place he wants to live, raise his family and reach his American dream.

Giardina paints a gorgeous picture of the struggle and success of one family over the next 40 years. We see their internal and external challenges to love, grow, succeed and make sense of their lives and surroundings. It is rare that a writer can create such depth and intimacy with so many characters. Giardina pulls off this feat effortlessly and enchants the reader with the near perfect pace of the novel, characters unfolding and drawing the reader ever closer to them, flaws and all.

I haven't read anything else by Giardina, but after discovering this masterful novel, I can't wait to devour more of his wonderful writing.
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on January 6, 2015
Fascinating. A novel about class, a subject that looms so large in American culture, but one we never never talk about. Can a father's sheer will make his family join the glorious world he happens upon one evening? Is it possible to become our dreams, or do we remain who we were at birth? I loved this book.I never knew where it was going. The themes of love, marriage, power all weave in and out of the class struggle of those of us born into one class and find ourselves on the edge of another.
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on November 11, 2013
Giardina is a great wordsmith who sets perfect imagery. I could "see" each character but in the end, I knew and understood the trees in Norumbega better than the people who seemed to drift ghost-like across the pages. The first chapter brilliantly captures the same political gamesmanship that is in play in 21st Century offices without losing the milieu of the 1960s in which socially-ambitious Richie Palumbo struggles. That first chapter is the best part of the book. Then, when Richie and Norbert Oakes go fishing, I thought I had hit the dramatic tailwind that would carry me to the finale. This did not happen. I was back to Stella and their children, who have to be the dullest characters in fiction. During the decades after the reader meets the Palumbos, more sad, dissatisfied-with-life people have joined them. A back-cover blurb aptly describes a "vividly melancholy book." And, yes, it is a sorrowful story. Despite the beautiful turn of words, the exploration of American classism, the description of teenage angst, if I had not bought "Norumbega Park," it would have been impossible for me to finish it.
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on May 4, 2012
The arc of the characters' lives, feelings, thoughts, and desires are so powerfully captivating that what happens to these ordinary but fascinating people and what they become is as involving as any series of plots. Norumbega Park is not just an upper middle-class location but a state of mind with people seeking fulfillment and understanding of their lives. Thoughtful and beautifully written, the book comes across as both lively and serenely introspective at the same time. A delicious paradox, I think. Is it entertaining? "Entertaining" is too small a word for this splendid novel. It is deeply engaging, filled with insights and small surprises that all add up to a splendid read. If the book doesn't win some significant prize in 2012, it's because the given group of judges haven't read it.
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on December 21, 2012
Norumbega Park-Terrible....boring, monotonous, no plot, carbon copy of so many other "drudge" books. Don't waste your money of the space it takes on your Kindle!
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on September 13, 2012
I have been waiting for long time a new book by Antony Giardina, a writer that I deeply admire since the wonderful "Men with Debts" .I am only partially satisfied by this book. The beginning is enchantig, the spell of house that Richard desires as the key to a future of fufillement for himself and more importantly,for his children ,is magistral and very promising.I am less happy with all (a lot) that follows.I can't forgive Giardina for having Richard open a pizza parlour, sabotaging the preceeding narrative.Wy not a more suble way to convey an incipient sense of failure ? I don' t like the convent part, but again I find the sort of final surrender of Richard beautiful and worthy of the best of this great author.
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on August 3, 2012
It really helps to be an Italian, if only by the accident of birth, to 'get into' this author's latest epic of Italian-American life begun back with: 'Men With Debts'.

That feeling of 'otherness' within society; revisited virtually in every chapter...Especially from the view-points being depicted within by the - 'We Were Here Before You' - characters.
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