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(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Legendary gangster Angelo Vestieri is dying, hospitalized with a respiratory disorder that has afflicted him since youth. His children, now with grown children of their own, never knew him well enough to attend him, so the task befalls a man identified as Gabe, Vestieri’s onetime protege. Gabe is joined in his vigil by Mary, Vestieri’s mysterious mistress of long ago, and his life story unfolds through their recollections.

Author Lorenzo Carcaterra creates vivid characters, such as the genial, ruthless Pudge Nichols, who served Vestieri since their boyhood. But readers have had imprinted in their consciousness such brooding, silent archetypes as Don Corleone and his emergent son Michael, from Mario Puzo’s The Godfather (1969). Carcaterra sunders the brilliant evocation of these gangsters, and seldom convincingly.

For example, Gabe describes much of the mayhem in the story as the past, instead of the reader being in on actual events through an omniscient narrator. Further, the characters repeatedly utter such justification for their deeds as “It’s who we are.” In fact, Vestieri and Nichols regularly and casually rehash their doings, in rooms full of people. Whether characteristic of genuine gangsters or not, such behavior holds untrue to the memory of the stoic Corleone, who discussed business with nearly no one, and never before witnesses.

Carcaterra weaves a mild surprise into the ending, and readers may find themselves sad when certain characters go. Overall, however, Gangster disappoints.