From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. When Random announced that Winegardner, best known for the critically acclaimed mainstream saga Crooked River Burning
and baseball novel The Veracruz Blues
, had been hired to write a fresh Godfather novel, eyebrows arched from coast to coast. But the decision was right: this is a phenomenally entertaining, psychologically rich saga that spans the entire Godfather
years imagined in novel and film by Mario Puzo (the latter via his screenplays), filling in the blanks, fleshing out the characters, focusing primarily on the time (mid 1950s-early '60s) between when Puzo's landmark novel ended and the film Godfather II
begins.Few remember that Puzo began his career as a commercially failed but critically celebrated literary novelist. He wrote The Godfather
with the aim of hitting bestseller lists, but his earlier training showed in that novel's reach and complexity. Just so, Winegardner brings enormous talent to bear on this popular story and its immense cast of characters, deepening Puzo's work at nearly every step. Fredo Corleone, hapless Mafia scion, emerges here as a more central, vigorous and conflicted character than in The Godfather
or even the films, as do Tom Hagen (the Corleones' adopted son and erstwhile consigliere) and Johnny Fontane, Puzo's dig at Frank Sinatra. There are many new and newly fleshed out characters as well, from assorted Mob bosses (most notably Chicago's Don Louie Russo, aka Fuckface, spiritual descendant of Al Capone, and Nick Geraci, a Corleone man destined to become the Corleones' arch-enemy) to various Corleones (most notably the slain Sonny Corleone's twin daughters). There are also sharply drawn cameos of, among others and by other names, JFK, RFK and, fleetingly, Andy Warhol. But at the center of the mesmerizing, sometimes dizzying Mob conspiracies and familial tensions is, of course, the Godfather, Michael Corleone—proper heir to Vito Corleone, the last capo di tutti capi
: devious, brilliant, astonishing ruthless.The book isn't perfect—just nearly so. The enormity of Winegardner's reimagining of Puzo's epic can obscure the novel's overarching story line—Michael's attempt to legitimize the Corleones' businesses—and leads at times to an episodic feel. These, however, are quibbles in the face of a wholly absorbing novel that's written beautifully, with great skill and passion. Godfather
fans will love this tale; Puzo himself must be raising a celestial glass and shouting a hearty "Salut'!" Let it be known that Winegardner, for his respect to the novel's antecedents and for his accomplishment, shall henceforth be known as a Man of Honor.
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Its a tough act to follow, but somebody had to do it. Writing The Godfather
is a job worthy of "Don" Vito Corleone himself, yet the task fell to novelist Winegardner, head of the creative writing program at Florida State University. Critics rarely know what to make of a new author taking over a classic work, and The Godfather Returns
is no different. Some call this sequel brilliant, and praise Winegardners conscientious research, plot clarification, compelling new characters (like Francesca, one of Sonnys twin daughters), and "panoramic and cinematic" writing (Minneapolis Star Tribune
). Other critics argue that no author, Puzo or anyone else, can capture Al Pacinos inner expressionthis may be a case where the movie will forever trump the novel. Some even call the sequel bland, visionless, and undramatic. Since its the Corleones, expect the usual pulp thrills.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.