This is one of those rare books that you know, from the moment you start reading, you are going to enjoy.
The tale of a Sicilian butcher living in Oakland, California, doesn't sound like the stuff of great literature; yet, from
the opening paragraphs, where Salvator Cavriaghi's first encounter with his future wife ends in humiliation for him, the mixture
of slapstick comedy and threatening tragedy had me hooked.
Despite being an ace knife-sharpener and possessing the singing voice of a Caruso, Salvator is a novice in
the ways of love. Every time the seventeen-year-old Anna Toscana puts in an appearance at his father's shop, he falls apart.
All of a sudden, the little details of everyday life take on a new significance. But Anna's violent, despotic father disapproves
of her new admirer. The road to romance promises to be a rocky one.
As is so often the case with the works on these pages, the discovery that this book is not only published
as a POD paperback, but is actually available free in e-book form, both thrilled and mystified me. Who is this Vincent
Cardinale and why does he need to take such steps? All I could find out about the author was that he once lived in Oakland
and now lives in New York. One more thing I figured out for myself: he has an astonishing turn of phrase, an ability to make
the most mundane and/or most distasteful of sights and sounds take on a new appearance, one that both disturbs and delights
"The scent of bread wafting from the bakery across the street filtered through the caustic rankness of hot
asphalt ... together, these scents, and the scent of his own blood, now strong to him, made Salvator nauseous."
An outstanding feature is the affectionate homage paid by the author to the butcher - one artist to another,
as it were. One hardly expects that such a story will appeal to vegetarians; nevertheless, the reader can take an unexpected
pleasure in the lingering descriptions of the meat trade: "He brought the beef back out to his block, this time easily lifting
it to his shoulder without the slightest hint of imbalance. With smooth and deliberate strokes, Salvator parsed the waiting
hindquarter into three sections."
Being no particular fan of American writing, still less of American films, I was astonished to find myself
relishing the smart-alec observations ("If Paulo Bruno was famous for anything, it was his ability to annoy the crap out of
Claudio Cavriaghi, Salvator Cavriaghi, and Nino di Lampedusa in less time than it took those men to properly pronounce their
own names."), the Godfather-style dialogue ("There's no way in hell I'm selling my store. They want it, they're going to have
to come in and take it."), and the instant characterisations ("Nino, whose weathered face looked like a chunk of redwood burl").
But I just couldn't help it.
All books have their imperfections, and this is no exception. It could have done with better proof-reading,
for a start. The most serious flaw, however, comes after the lyrical beauty and nicely-paced action of the first half have
won the reader over. The author chooses this point to allow his enthusiasm to run away with him, as though he couldn't wait
to finish the story. Much as one might sympathise with this tendency, it amounts to a missed opportunity for character and
plot development, as months pass in the space of a few paragraphs.
For all that, Life of My Life still stands out a mile from most of the novels I've reviewed. The story
has no pretensions, as the title perhaps divulges. It's unusual for a male author to produce a straight, and convincing, love
story. In fact, Mr Cardinale's themes are miscellaneous - family and friendship, love and conflict, youth, work, and much
more. To recommend this book seems somehow inadequate. I feel I have to insist that you read it. If you don't enjoy it, it'll
be your own fault.