Aug 25, 2009

Book Review: Painting the Invisible Man by Rita Schiano

A memoir about a Mafia family written as contemporary historical fiction, Painting the Invisible Man by Rita Schiano is based on her own story of growing up with the memory of a father killed by the Mafia.

This is the second or third novel I've come across that is basically a memoir but written as fiction, to avoid claims of inaccuracies.

From the publicist: " In Rita Schiano's compelling novel, Painting the Invisible Man, (the author) explores her own past through fiction rather than memoir. She wanted to avoid the debacle that James Frey created over his memoir, A Million Little Pieces, where inaccuracies and exaggerations invalidated the telling of a true story....Painting the Invisible Man takes readers on a journey inside the world of a struggline Italian family on the fringes of the Mafia."

In the novel, the main character Anna Matteo discovers newspaper articles about the killing of her father two decades earlier. She sets out to find the truth behind her father's murder and the exoneration of the supposed triggerman. However, this is not a mystery novel, but a story of a father-daughter relationship, what the daughter discovers about her father after his death, and her reaction to those involved with his killing and the murder trial that followed.

This is a valuable insight, I think, into one family and the consequences of their connections to the Mafia underworld. It's also about coming to terms with one's family history and past.
"I'll never know if my father, in the last moments of his life, prayed for forgiveness, atoned for his past mistakes. I do know that in resurrecting his memory - and my memories - I have found forgiveness and have been forgiven."
The book is also about a writer and the muse she has adopted - another writer of family secrets, Amy Tan. It is also about pushing oneself to put down words on paper in the process of becoming a writer.
"Okay, Abba, focus," I tell myself.
Family secrets. Family sectets are skeletons in the closet, are 'ills that flesh are heirs to.' I write this down. Secrets are hurtful. Secrets cause harm. Secrets wound. I add this to the page."
I found the character of Anna Matteo intriguing. She writes about her gay relationships and her family history with equal candor. Remembering that the novel is both memoir and fiction, one can't help but wonder how much is truth and how much fictionalized. I recommend the book for readers interested in the Mafia, the writing of memoirs, and the emergence of a writer.

Rita Schiano is a freelance writer and author of the novel, Sweet Bitter Love, 1997.
(Received from the author/publicist for review)

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  1. I read this awhile back and really enjoyed it. :)

  2. It's an interesting book, no doubt. An inside look at an Italian family connected to the mob.

  3. Interesting. I read a few mafia related memoirs last year, but have a hard time with the 'fictional memoir'. I'm always guessing what's true and what's not and for me it ruins some of the enjoyment because it taked me out of the story.
    Great review. It's the first time I've seen it.

  4. I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



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