In his new novel, Roland Merullo returns to familiar territory. Revere Beach, north of Boston, has already been the subject of his recent memoir, Revere Beach Elegy, and another novel. His latest work, In Revere, In Those Days, stands on its own as an honest and eloquent coming-of-age story.
Anthony Benedetto, a portrait painter with a fairly comfortable lifestyle, looks back at the saving of his soul. It began in the 1960s, during his preteen years, following the shocking deaths of both his parents in a plane crash. Anthony, or Tonio, was rescued by the devoted love of his large Italian-American family. A good student, Tonio eventually enrolls at Phillips Exeter Academy. The prep school environment provides the staging ground for a subtle break from his Revere roots. Tonio's path also diverges sharply from that of his beloved (and beautiful) cousin Rosalie. Ultimately, for Tonio, seeds are sown for lessons that will comprise his salvation.
Two figures stand out in this boy's life. Anthony's grandpa Dom, for instance, is an orderly man whose outward demeanor conceals a long-held source of pain. By sharing a measure of it with his grandson, he fortifies him, in effect, by the magnitude and honesty of the gesture. Uncle Peter, Rosalie's father and a failed boxer, chases one big score after another to elevate the Benedetto family out of the reach of humiliation. Roland Merullo's characters struggle with their sense of place in a wider world. And they can't quite fathom the nature of pain and suffering in their lives. That some like Tonio's grandma Lia, a gentle Zen master in disguise still manage to go on, to internalize the lessons of grief, is Merullo's great achievement.
The narrative hews a bit too closely to a rites-of-passage framework (including, for example, Tonio's loss of his virginity to an older woman). Nevertheless, In Revere, In Those Days remains a thoughtful meditation on the process of overcoming personal tragedy and on the imperative to trust, once again, in the possibility of hope.