By Adriana Trigiani. (Harper, 496 pages, $28.99.)
Adriana Trigiani offers a charming look at midcentury Italian-American family life and a humorous glimpse into the travails of celebrity with “Tony’s Wife,” the decades-spanning tale of debonair crooner Tony Arma (born Saverio Armandonada) and plucky singer-songwriter Chiara (Chi Chi) Donatelli.
Tony and Chi Chi, from working-class backgrounds, meet in the Big Band Era as he’s becoming a star. They team up professionally, finding success, friendship and, eventually, love. They get married, despite his womanizing ways, during World War II. Estranged from his macho father, Tony can’t forgive family-focused Chi Chi for letting his parents see their twin baby daughters before he’s home from the war. Chi Chi endures far more unforgivable actions on Tony’s part, as well as a truly horrible tragedy. Along the way, there are encounters with Dinah Shore, Johnny Carson and a toupee maker named Sy Warmflash of Samson’s of Fifth Avenue. Through it all, Chi Chi remains resilient, clever and hardworking, refusing to be a victim.
A few scenes drag (a tawdry hotel encounter with an old crush, a long-winded deathbed confession). But “Tony’s Wife” shows the rewards and regrets of a long life, and offers the lesson that “happiness is all about accepting what’s enough.”
Little Culinary Triumphs
By Pascale Pujol. (Europa Editions, 224 pages, $17.)
A foodie’s passion combines with other deep desires to create a fun and fast-paced novel set in the Montmartre section of Paris. Everybody’s got an angle here, particularly Sandrine, the unemployment office worker who’d rather be running her own restaurant, and Antoine, the professor who’s unemployed and wants to stay that way. Their paths collide and expand to include a cast of eccentrics who give the neighborhoods around the Sacré Cœur basilica their distinctive je ne sais quoi. There’s a grandma with a seamy secret, a wallflower who writes a sex column, a Senegalese guy who cracks the French welfare system, and many more.
In her debut novel, Pascale Pujol keeps the tone light as she takes on serious themes of economics and immigration. She gently skewers the French bureaucracy, business executives, union officers and even real estate agents — “black suits a little on the tight side, white shirt a little too open at the neck, Bluetooth earpiece … and black shoes that were too pointy.” All of them deserve some comeuppance, right?
The plot adds characters like ingredients in a recipe until everything finally sets like a creamy quiche. Will everybody get what they want — or deserve? Maybe, maybe not, but it’s fun watching the schemes unfold.