Three Little Pigs (US) is a story that wraps itself around a wonderful premise. An Italian family in early twentieth century New York is cursed when the father kills the son of Tonio Lupo, The Scourge Of Brooklyn. Lupo sets in motion a maledizione which means that the sons of the killer will all die when they are forty-two years old (the same age as Lupo’s only child). To do this, he takes his most promising assassin and retires him from the mob, guaranteeing him a fortune when the murders have taken place. It’s a long-term plan, but the loyalties and codes of the Sicilian underworld ensure that it’s almost certain to take place.
The three Frank brothers set off to make their way into the world. The first is industrious and determined. After his heroics during World War One, he returns home and rises to the top of the business world. He is driven by the hope that becoming rich will be enough to save him from the curse. The second brother is discovered by Hollywood and sets of to make his way in the movies. It’s his hope that fame will protect him from Lupo’s maledizione. The third is a waster. He knows nothing of the truth of his own father’s story and sets about living life to the full while riding on brother number one’s coat tails.
Peppe Teranova is the man charged with carrying out the contract. He’s the owner of a pizza restaurant and sets about bringing up his own children into the world, all the while keeping his eyes open for news of the Frank boys and making sure he knows exactly where he will find them when the time comes.
There’s an awful lot to like about this book. Through these four characters, we get to see the growth of a nation. Each tale is told independently other than at the points of necessary crossover. The insights and flavours of mafia life as offered by the narrator are romantically recreated and a joy to read. There’s an element of tension to the whole thing as we move towards the first of the forty-second birthdays and the book races away at times.
Thought I really enjoyed this one, I do have some minor gripes. It suffers from some heavy-handed use of punctuation, particularly early on when the style is emerging. This interrupts the flow and slows down the energy and pace when it should be at its quickest. The good news is that the work is strong enough to carry this and it did eventually become almost invisible.
There’s also something of an issue with the final third of the piece. After being engrossed for much of what had gone before, I found the journey to the end to be more sluggish than I would have liked. There’s a lot of introspection and excessive attention to detail and explanation that I didn’t really need - I bought everything that was thrown my way. There’s also a new element to the whole piece regarding the reflections of the narrator. This is hinted at early on and is a welcome addition, I just wish it had been sharper so that my lasting impression of Three Little Pigs could have been as glowing as the rest of the story deserves.
Don’t let the previous couple of paragraphs put you off. I’d recommend you give it a go, especially if you like epic tales or mafia lore. I loved much of it. It’s a huge piece and has the weight and feel of a novel that might pull in a prize or two in the future. Apostolos Doxiadis is clearly a master story-teller and is likely to present the world with some choice tales for us to look forward to.