Review: Half-Past Nowhere by Joseph Cavano

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Half-Past Nowhere by Joseph Cavano (cover)

Half-Past Nowhere

By Joseph Cavano

CPCC Press, 2007

Paperback, 151 pages

ISBN: 1594940258


It's hard not to judge a book by its cover--and I think it's rather silly not to, to be honest. The production values of a book say a lot about what's going to be within. Of course, that doesn't mean you shouldn't still take a peek inside, and give the words a chance. Especially with the small press, where the trappings of the business may not be in full bloom, but where the writing itself can still be honeyed treasure.

"Half-Past Nowhere" is one of those treasures, wrapped in a bundle of mixed messages that I will run through here quickly so that you are already desensitized to them by the time you find this book in your hands. The cover is compelling, but a touch generic, and the paper of it feels more weak than delicate. The finish has already started to rub off around the corners and the edges are well-dented--it was carried around a fair bit. Opening the book, I was taken aback to find it was double-spaced throughout, and a quick flip-through showed me, through thin pages, that the registration was reliably off. On the other hand, it does seem to have been offset printed (as opposed to digital), unless my eyes deceive me--a point in its favor.

But now that I've wound down my minor rant, which I presume most of you have skipped over, I would like to extol the book's virtues. "Half-Past Nowhere" has a simple yet poetic honesty to it that pulls you through seventeen years of Joey Fusaro's life by way of a series of eleven loosely-connected, but coherent, stories (or ten, depending on how you read "A Perfect Trifecta").

"Lucifer's Legions" paints a very believable and compelling innocence as Joey, a seven-year-old, is pushed into a relatively harmless dare by his ten-year-old brother Dominick and Dominick's friends. This is interwoven with a pertinent but also engrossing conversation between Joey and his Nonna, who is written with a thick accent that could easily have gone into caricature but which instead, I feel, underpinned a strong reality for the setting.

This is followed by two more winners: "Twelve Steps", where the three young brothers Fusaro stand strong against their father's drunken violence; and "Crescendo", where Joey, still a young boy, slowly asserts his independence through wandering into a part of town forbidden to him. In "Crescendo" he meets, if you'll forgive the pun, some of the most colorful characters of the book--jazz pianist Phineas Biggers and barkeep Miss Reba. They appear in another story later, and I feel they plumb Joey's depths of heart and soul the most. "Phineas Rising" threatened me with tears even the second time I read it--though I can be a sucker for such things.

Cavano's stories run the gamut from pathos to comedy, with loving and recurring portraits of nature--fishing in particular, but also people and out-of-the-way places--as well as a young man's weight in relationships and sex. A few of the pieces came off as weaker to me. I didn't buy Joey's dialog with Rachel in "Mayflies", for instance--and that story as a whole was perhaps just too mopey despite some beautiful imagery scattered throughout; "Mountain Men" felt a touch out of tune; and "Full Circle" wrapped things up, but didn't feel like a story in itself. But they were more than balanced by the power in pieces like the aforementioned "Phineas Rising", and "Currents", where Joey loses himself and is violently reborn in a river.

Cavano presents a compelling world, one of an older America just a few generations away, yet growing more and more distant as today's technology changes things faster and faster. Joey grows up, at turns romantic, at turns wicked; each section of his life is self-contained, but they all weave together into a coherent narrative.

For a somewhat thin volume, this really punches. The writing is crisp, the characters and world vivid, and a very full life is presented in its eleven chapters--childhood to adulthood, and then, per the eleventh chapter's title, it comes "Full Circle". I never doubted the characterizations and read through it in one sitting, sympathizing and empathizing with characters and situations.

And then I read it again.

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posted by kaolin

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