Fred Misurella


BOOK BOOST: JOANNA CLAPPS HERMAN REVIEWS FRED MISURELLA

Lies to Live By, Stories, written by Fred Misurella Boca Raton, FL, Bordighera, 2005. 172 pp.

I like to read in bed at night, letting someone else’s words and images boat me across to the other side of the river, but I found myself reading Fred Misurella’s Lies to Live By, quietly by the morning light sitting in my reading chair in the living room bathed in a glow reflected up from the Hudson River. Is it the pure yellow cover of the book? Is it the direct address this writing makes to that which is elemental and that which flows past us?

A widowed father looks into the mirror to assess his aging body but notices instead his daughter’s slender beauty sprawled on the floor behind him, “balancing a Swedish clog counterweight to all that serious thought on the tip of her rather lengthy toes.” Isn’t that a sentence you want to read in a large calm light? The words are a part of the world we live in and know, but they are delivered to us by someone who understands something important about the chiaro scuro.. He brings us the light, against the dark he knows well in which we ordinarily live. The daughter brings light, air, hope to her father’s dreary darkness. She breezes, he slumps.

This same daughter, now pregnant becomes a russet pear, “slim and bright on top, red and fully rounded at the bottom.” Always a sense color, season, a moment in the day is at hand in the world that Fred creates with a sense of love and despair; there is a sweetness and almost a danger present—in short he brings to us the things that life is made of.
Later in this same story his beloved daughter, “tottered when she walked, her skinny arms and hands a pair of circling birds worrying the baby’s passage. This kind of elegant and beautiful language makes its own light to read Fred Misurella’s stories by.

Crawling against the light is disaster—not unusual for art, but Lies to Live By has it’s own climate of dusk and shadows: political and emotional bombs going off in his stories: tattoos, cigarettes, war, sickness and death, quivering gloomily through these pages. Some of the darkness comes from the world these characters walk in, but most of it comes from the spaces across which they reach toward one another. It’s not at all clear that they are going be able to breach that distance. Therein is the scuro.

The last three stories center on the life of a young man trapped in his Italian family’s relentless stranglehold. Our protagonist, Nick, can barely breathe given his parents’ desperate need to use his air to live. These stories bring us inside the hard business of finding an adult life under claustrophobic circumstances. Tension and ultimately embarrassment pervades because living too closely against one another precludes the matrix of privacy one must have to form oneself as an adult.

Nick’s solution is to join the army during the Vietnam era where he finds to his surprise that he is, “the kind his fellow soldiers respect and his commanders like….I marched quietly, tending to business never, hot-dogged or otherwise blew the company’s cool.” He has found a piece of himself that wasn’t sure he ever would. Deep in the countryside of what seems to be a secure area on a path he hasn’t traveled before he meets up with the blackest hour: a figure he knows will kill him and whom therefore has to kill first. But the rifle turns out to be the handle of a hoe and the killer a very young woman. We are at the heart of Nick’s darkness. Fred Misurella knows how to carry us to these light and dark places. He writes about them with beauty and authority. Some of his phrases ring clear to remind the reader of our deepest despair and others make us feel lighter for reading him. He writes of the darkness in the lean human hours and invites us to be there and share the suffusing light with him.

Joanna Clapps Herman


Lies to Live By

"Fred Misurella's collection of stories, Lies to Live By, tells the complex, and sometimes secret truth about what it is to be alive in these complicated times. The eight stories in this collection are deep in their understanding and widely varied in their subject matter. Misurella writes in the clearest, precise prose, and has as his special strength the joining of shining intelligence with deep emotion. Lies to Live By deserves a wide readership and serious attention."
--Kent Haruf, author of of Plainsong

"Any fan of storytelling will find much to admire in Fred Misurella's Lies to Live By. All of Misurella's finely drawn characters are 'crossing a bridge, preparing to pass through the doors of a new time zone.' Their journey from old-world neighborhoods into more modern times makes for delightful reading."
-- Rita Ciresi, author of Sometimes I Dream in Italian

"Fred Misurella, like Ben Morreale and Fred Gardaphe, is among the best of Italian-American male writers of fiction, the sort that our American culture should pay attention to as the tellers of the real stories of Italian-American life."
--Daniela Gioseffi, editor of Women on War

"What a pleasure to read this little novel by Fred Misurella! In it I recognize so much that I admire: sensitivity, a heart open to ordinary people who are vulnerable and weak. Weak before chance occurrences that give their own meaning and direction to events we (vainly) think we master."
--Milan Kundera, author of The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Table of Contents:

I. Money, Love, Art
"Parenting"
(A widowed father sees his diabetic daughter through the birth of her first child.)

"Relations"
(An Italian-American family survives on the edge of poverty through work and newspaper contests.)

"Body Lessons"
(A priest meets his famous actor brother now dying of AIDS.)

"Flames"
(A policewoman falls in love with a girl she saves from delinquency.)

"A Man of His Time"
(A reporter attends a friend's funeral in Paris before traveling to a war zone farther east.)
II. America
"Macho Maudit"
(Nick Potenza, a young Italian-American, falls in love with a girl whose parents disapprove of him and his family.)

"The Dragon Lady and the Soldier"
(Nick moves to the Midwest and meets a California girl as the Cuban Missile Crisis threatens to end the world.) (Click link on upper left of page to read the story.)

"Short Time"
(A divorced father now, Nick looks back on his tragic experience in Vietnam and tries to convey its horror to his daughter.)

Fiction
A complex, thoughtful novel about love, beauty, and sexual longing in the south of France.
She's white; he's black. But their conflicts are more than racial.
The Red and the Black of Italian-Americana, these stories disect the essence of contemporary living. (With a link to one of the stories.)
Uncannily accurate about Vietnam, its soldiers, and their tragic return home.
The story of three generations of Italian-American men and their women--mothers, wives, lovers.
A sample chapter from Only Sons (Link to the text).
Literary Criticism
Detailed analysis and interpretation of Milan Kundera's works from The Joke through Immortality.
The lead essay in The Legacy of Primo Levi, edited by Stanislao G. Pugliese, published by Palgrave/Macmillan