Peter Fortunato’s debut novel starts with a craps game and a red and white snake in a mayonnaise jar. But it moves on quickly to art, love, amphibians, the beautiful Gracie Laporta, the bewildering Leo Declare, Renaissance painters, philosophers, Tarot cards, a Ouija board, dreams, voyeurism and Debussy’s “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun.”
No sense in trying to keep track. Characters who seem to disappear return hundreds of pages later. An off-hand reference to an obscure painting turns out to be essential part of the plot. Mischief becomes criminal, and love takes some pretty strange turns. Better to throw your hands up in the air like one does on a roller coaster and go along for the ride.
Carnevale ostensibly is a coming-of-age story about a young Italian-American boy named Guido who grew up on the Diamante family-owned inn, the Villa Giustovera, in New York’s Hudson Valley, but it’s so much more. Orbiting Guido are characters so colorful they nearly upstage our hero. Just about the time the reader gets curious about Guido’s questionable interest in his little cousin Tina, we start to suspect a possibly homoerotic relationship between Guido and Leo Declare, who is both his art mentor and his boss at the Half Moon Cafe and Saloon.
Guido falls in lust and love interchangeably while honing his skills as an artist and experimenting with sex, drugs and nudity. He idolizes his cousin Cristiano and suspects there is something going on between a handsome gentleman caller and his grandmother Nonna. As a boy, he spies on the grown-ups, then creates his own fantasy world in the meadows beyond the buildings that make up the inn. He toggles between the kitchen at the Villa Giustovera and his busboy duties at the Half Moon just as neatly as he toggles between adolescence and precociousness.
Guido’s childhood is freewheeling and provocative, surrounded as he is by his extended Italian family members who have freewheeling and provocative lives of their own. Somehow he manages to reach adulthood. He becomes a teacher at the fictional Hudson River College where his relationship with Mr. Declare takes on new dimensions. Cristiano bounces in and out of focus, Tina grows reclusive, the owner of the local department store emerges as a possible evil force. Guido takes on the job of police sketch artist in hopes it will give him some sort of grace.
Carnevale covers a seemingly impossible array of literary allusions and historical, philosophical, and artistic references. A passionate reader would do well to keep Internet access handy, but the erudition doesn’t ever get in the way of enjoyment. The Diamante family only becomes more precious as the story continues: they love, die, betray, disappoint, advise, inspire and confuse. The supporting cast of characters grows more complex and engrossing.
Carnevale is now available.
Learn more about Peter on his Author Profile page.
About Peter Fortunato
Peter Fortunato’s poetry reflects his commitment to Buddhism and a passion for the natural world first honed in California after he completed graduate school. During those years, he was a poetry apprentice of Gary Snyder, through whom he met many of the persons associated with the Beat movement. Upon returning to Ithaca in 1977, he began teaching writing at both Cornell and Ithaca College. Winner of numerous awards for his writing and grants for his stage performances, Fortunato recently lived in the Persian Gulf for four years while teaching at Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar. He has also for many years maintained a private counseling practice specializing in hypnotherapy.