Salvatore Scibona’s The End concerns a set of connected characters living in a northern Ohio immigrant neighborhood in the first half of the twentieth century. Using a roving point of view and a dense, poetic style, Scibona entertains questions of mortality, love, time, and place. Although the plot of The End is important and the book pushes forward via the complicated relationships between the characters and the decisions they make, Scibona clearly prefers long, meditative passages that reference the modernist era of literature and works by authors such as William Faulkner and Virginia Woolf. The End is not so much a story as an exploration, with the situations of the characters serving as jumping-off points for questions about what people need to make themselves happy, how love can be ephemeral or eternal, and how work can inform people’s lives as much as religion can.

Scibona tells his story out of order, splitting The End into five sections touching on events from 1913 to 1953. August 15, 1953, is Ascension Day, a Catholic holiday celebrating the Virgin Mary’s ascension into heaven—and on this day many of the plot’s major events occur.

The first section, “I Know That My Redeemer Lives: 1913–1953,” describes Rocco, an Italian American baker who has not taken a day off in nearly thirty years, keeping his bakery open no matter what. Rocco’s hard work has taken a toll on his personal life—he has a wife and three sons but they have all left him. Rocco’s wife, Loveypants, initially left during the Great Depression because she found work in a factory in New Jersey. She and the boys stay away even though the Depression has lifted and the bakery has returned to doing good business.

Although his wife and sons have been gone for nearly twenty years, Rocco remains doggedly optimistic and confident about their imminent return even when the facts suggest otherwise. On Ascension Day Rocco sleeps in “for the first time in 10,685 days” because, on the day previous, he received a message from the U.S. Army: the remains of his middle son, Mimmo, who was a prisoner of war in North Korea, have been recovered. When Rocco walks to his bakery in next morning, a crowd of mourners is there to meet him. As his neighbors try to comfort him, Rocco laughs them away and claims that the body has been misidentified and that his son is actually still alive. The crowd in front of the bakery disperses but one old woman, a neighbor of Rocco’s named Mrs. Marini, remains. Mrs. Marini asks Rocco to have lunch with her that day. Rocco spends the afternoon with Mrs. Marini and her young lodger, a boy named Ciccio. Rocco finally leaves that night to attend the chaotic Ascension Day parade through the neighborhood.

Mrs. Marini forms the nucleus of the second section, “All the Daughters of Musick Shall Be Brought Low: 1928–1936.” Like Rocco and many of the other characters in the novel, Mrs. Marini is an immigrant; she came to America 1879. In 1928, widowed for thirteen years and ready to die, Mrs. Marini suddenly has an epiphany: “She had become happy—no, exuberant.” Mrs. Marini’s life seems to begin when she is sixty-eight, and she will live for more than thirty more years. Before becoming widowed, Mrs. Marini “was impervious to the suffering of others and did not weep at the theater or at funerals.” Mrs. Marini secretly performs abortions in her basement and has conversations with the sarcastic ghost of her dead husband, Nico. She decides to take an apprentice, a single girl living nearby named Lina, and pass on her trade.

Lina is the daughter of Patrizia Montanero, an Italian immigrant who is one of Mrs. Marini’s friends. Mrs. Marini takes Lina under her wing. But before Lina can learn Mrs. Marini’s plans for her, she becomes engaged to a man named Enzo. Lina and Enzo are happy together even though they are unable to have children. Mrs. Marini believes Enzo is the one who is sterile, and later events prove her right. Mrs. Marini still spends time with Lina and Enzo and visiting the vineyard in the country where Lina’s parents have retired. Eventually Mrs. Marini asks Lina to become her apprentice, but Enzo forbids her to do so, claiming that...

(The entire section is 1726 words.)