Every once in a while, I’m in the mood for a fun escape novel. When that mood strikes, I want to read something clever, entertaining, and well-written, with a touch of humor. Sometimes I need the reading version of comfort food — macaroni and cheese, anyone? Adriana Trigiani’s novels are perfect “comfort reading” — they’re warm and substantial.
Trigiani grew up in a large Italian family in Big Stone Gap, Virginia. A theater major in college, she spent 15 years as a playwright, comedy troupe actress, TV writer/producer (writing several episodes for the Cosby Show), and documentary filmmaker before turning to fiction writing. Her first novel, Big Stone Gap, the first in a series set in her hometown, started out as a screenplay. The movie version (written and directed by Trigiani and starring Ashley Judd) has just been filmed and is due for release this year.)
The Supreme Macaroni Company — which has almost nothing to do with a macaroni company — is the third in a series about shoe designer Valentine Roncalli and her family. (Trigiani has also written stand-alone novels and a memoir.) I’ve read almost all of Trigiani’s books, and every one is a delight. Don’t worry about reading them in order; you’ll enjoy your introduction to Trigiani’s wonderful characters wherever you start, and Trigiani skillfully weaves the background information into each story.
At the heart of The Supreme Macaroni Company is a love story. The book opens on Christmas Eve on the roof of the Angelini Shoe Company, where Valentine becomes engaged to Gianluca Vechiarelli (her grandmother’s stepson). Valentine loves Gianluca, but she also loves her family’s shoe company. Her workaholic tendencies will later put a strain on her new marriage, but for now she is full of optimism about their future:
A shoemaker would marry a tanner.
This could work.
Shoemakers and tanners form a symbiotic relationship out of necessity. One provides the leather while the other whips it into a glorious creation. At Vechiarelli & Son in Arezzo, Gianluca creates some of the most sumptuous leather, calfskin, and suede in Italy . . . For over a century, there has been and remains a shorthand between our families’ shops. The Angelini Shoe Company in Greenwich Village has proudly used Vechiarelli & Son’s goods for generations.
Valentine and Gianluca marry on Valentine’s Day, in the wedding her mother has always dreamed of — starting with “proper invitations”:
Years from now, you’ll want a permanent record of your wedding. An invitation is the bride’s Dead Sea scroll at the bottom of her hope chest . . . I’ll have the invitations printed up. You don’t even have to look at them. When Chrissy Pipino got married, she had a fold-out card with a tissue, and if you remember, it was gold-leafed. She even had a pop-up angel. You yanked a satin ribbon and the little cherub went over and down like a windshield wiper. We don’t have time for a pop-up, but we will have our version of Caravaggio angels.
Valentine’s mother, like almost every character in this novel, is funny and lovable. Curmudgeonly Aunt Feen — who is truly heinous — is a comic foil, highlighting the essential goodness of the other family members. (Aunt Feen has a bit of a drinking problem: “She was having another Bailey’s on the rocks, and she was about to hit them hard like an old dinghy.”) It’s a pleasure, every now and then, to read about people who are honest and well-meaning. They have flaws and make mistakes,to be sure, but they are decent people — people with big hearts, quick wits, and humor. I can’t tell you how many times I laughed out loud while reading this book. (I also cried, just a little, but I won’t tell you any more about that.)
Consider the reaction of Valentine’s family when they learn that the appointed priest will not be able to officiate at the wedding:
When my mother returned, she had a look of panic on her face, which she tried to mask with a smile so broad it reminded me of the sample choppers dentists use to demonstrate proper flossing. “Val, we thought we had Father Drake.”
“Who do we have?”
“What happened to Father Drake?” Tess asked.
“He’s giving last rites at Queens County Hospital,” Mom explained.
“There’s a full-time job for you,” Aunt Feen piped up. “You better be bleeding like an animal when you go over there, otherwise you got a nine-hour wait. I saw a man holding his liver over there when I went for my flu shot . . . But Nikako? Jesus. I can’t understand a word he says.”
“He’s from Nigeria,” Mom snapped.
It’s easy to see that Trigiani has a background in TV sitcom writing! But she also writes lovely prose, equally at home describing the beauty of the Hudson River at night, the otherworldly appeal of New Orleans, and the struggle within Valentine between love and work.
Our bookstore has been fortunate enough to host Adriana Trigiani for several events. Before one of her appearances, Trigiani’s publicist warned us that “one thing about Adriana is that she will keep talking until someone stops her so if there is some kind of time limit just let her know beforehand and then politely give her a signal when it’s time to wrap up.” Well, I don’t think anyone wanted her stop talking. However, it’s probably time for me to stop writing. If you, like me, need a break from war, murder, psychopaths, and devastating family tragedies, I recommend The Supreme Macaroni Company. You’ll learn something about the shoemaking business to boot. (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.)
For further reading:
I read this book as part of a blog tour. To visit more stops on the blog tour, click here: