Mario Puzo Puzo, Mario (Vol. 2) - Essay

Puzo, Mario (Vol. 2)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Puzo, Mario 1920–

Novelist, author of The Godfather.

There are strong similarities between Michael Corleone and Alexander Portnoy. Neither of them, for instance wishes to enter his father's line of work. Each of them falls for a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant girl. Of course there are some differences, too. When Alexander Portnoy's father is frustrated, he gets constipated; when Michael Corleone's father is frustrated, he gets someone killed.

"The Godfather" is the coming of age of Michael Corleone in a world that Philip Roth never knew. It is the world of the Mafia in America, and the dialogue and the logic of "The Godfather" ring true enough to raise the suspicion that, at least by hearsay, Mario Puzo knows his subject well….

Yet it is unfair to carry the analogy too far. "The Godfather" is not written nearly so artfully as "Portnoy's Complaint." Nor does it approach the humor of Roth's work. Yet "The Godfather" is such a compelling story, a better-written Sicilian entry into the Irving sweepstakes, the truth-disguised-and-distorted-as-fiction genre, that any day now, I am certain, the Portnoy family and the Corleone family will end up sharing the heady heights of best-sellerdom as comfortably as the Jews and the Italians have long shared the pleasures of salami….

Puzo performs a neat trick; he makes Don Vito a sympathetic, rather appealing character, part robbing hood and part Robin Hood. Without sugercoating Don Vito's sins, Puzo makes the man believable and, more important, understandable….

"The Godfather" is weakest when Puzo reaches out to drag in dramatic scenes that advance neither his plot nor his characters. Obviously, he has collected vivid vignettes, based partly or wholly on fact, that he could not resist throwing in. I can't particularly blame him; some of the extraneous Hollywood and Las Vegas scenes are wonderful little anecdotes that would brighten even the most blasé cocktail party; it would have taken a very strong-willed man to keep them out of "The Godfather."…

Allow for a touch of corniness here. Allow for a bit of overdramatization there. Allow for an almost total absence of humor. Still Puzo has written a solid story that you can read without discomfort at one long sitting. Pick a night with nothing good on television, and you'll come out far ahead.

Dick Schaap, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1969 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), April 27, 1969, pp. 34-5.

In The Godfather Papers Puzo puts his cards on the table right from sentence one:

"I have written three novels. The Godfather is not as good as the preceding two; I wrote it to make money … I was 45 years old and tired of being an artist."

Thus, Puzo poses the awesome American quandary: poor artist or affluent hack? Take your pick.

So Puzo sat down and produced—what? A clumsily (hastily?) written novel which still had enormous force and kept you turning the pages. This is not a talent to be overlooked in this day of the stone-dead anti-roman or the cutesie-pie fictional detritus of people who really believe Bob Dylan is a great poet. Oh wow….

But Godfather freaks should be warned that these are the only 38 pages in this book dealing with that work … despite the collection's title. Also included are a couple of short stories, two essays on gambling (a Puzo passion), some penetrating pieces on being Italian in America, and some of the most delightful reviews (on Podhoretz, Mailer, and the Paris Review's "Writers at Work" series) that have ever graced the pages of Book World, where they first appeared.

What happens now to Mario Puzo? Having hit it big, having paid off his patient relatives and itchy Shylocks, will he return to his art?

The question is impudent. If Puzo has something more to say—as readers of The Dark Arena and The Fortunate Pilgrim believe he may—he will continue to say it. If not, he will become merely a millionaire. And whichever choice he makes, it's really none of our business.

Robert Lasson, "Don Mario Talks," in Book World (© The Washington Post), April 9, 1972, p. 5.

Not having read The Godfather now is like not having an inside lavatory and a few months from now, not having seen the film will put you among the wallflowers at the party. As for the author, he's weeping all the way to the bank because all he wants to do is write a good book.

The Godfather Papers is a pretty good one. If second-rate American novelists can write like this, I wish they'd bite some of ours. A good chunk of it is about The Godfather, but it also includes Mr. Puzo's reviews, short stories and articles. One crisp little essay in irony, How Crime Keeps America Healthy, is a signpost to the social comment he insists is present in The Godfather….

For millions of readers, Mr. Puzo has just about invented the Mafia. He can talk about social irony until he chokes on his spaghetti, but it's difficult to see The Godfather as anything but a kind of Italian-American Archers, an everyday story of Mafia folk. The Cosy Nostra, in fact. Of course, it could just be argued that it shows that evil men are no less evil because they cultivate their gardens and weep occasionally. The fact that Hitler loved dogs and children doesn't cancel out eight million gassed Jews. Nor do the Krays's parties for old-age pensioners in the East End wipe out the guns and the boot in the groin.

But then, I'm in danger of taking The Godfather seriously, which I swore I never would….

For the record, he tells us The Godfather was written entirely from research material. Until it was published he had never met a gangster, though Mafia men he has met since don't believe him. The story that the Mafia paid him a million dollars to write it to improve their PR image is definitely untrue.

I enjoyed The Godfather Papers. It's nice to know that a barefoot Italian boy from Hell's Kitchen can grow up and write The Godfather.

Alan Forrest, in Books and Bookmen, October, 1972, p. 98.

[The] book that really made the mob fashionable was The Godfather. As far as I'm concerned, the book was far superior to the movie. What I liked about the book—and what they dropped from the movie—was that it showed how Don Corleone came over to this country intending to work and make an honest buck, but there were prejudices against Italians, so he was forced into doing things the way they were done in Sicily….

The one great thing Puzo did in his book was show the Sicilian genius for organization. That's one thing about Sicilians. They might not always be educated people, but if there is one thing they know, it's organization. They know how to take four guys that are ambling around aimlessly with no place to go and make them a tight-knit unit.

Puzo also showed the compassion of a don, the fair way Corleone ruled. That's the way most dons are. I don't care what you say, if you go to a don, even if you're not a member of his mob, and you've got a legitimate beef about someone in his mob, and it proves to be the truth, you'll get justice. That's what makes the dons so important in the mob. They rule fair and square.

Vincent Teresa, "A Mafioso Cases the Mafia Craze," in Saturday Review (copyright © 1973 by Saturday Review; first appeared in Saturday Review, January 20, 1973; used with permission), January 20, 1973, pp. 23-9.