Lucia, Lucia may be the most adorable book I’ve ever read.
The novel starts off a tad slow, and the details are a bit unrealistic in that it reads like a twenty- or thirty-something woman imagining what life was like in Manhattan in the 50s and not necessarily a twenty- or thirty-something woman who actually researched what life was like in Manhattan in the 50s, but it is adorable nonetheless.
Set in the Village at a time when the walk-ups were still actual houses owned by one family — most likely an Italian family — Lucia, Lucia tells the story of a young lady breaking out of the traditional Italian-American woman persona and into the exciting world of fashion. Or department stores. (The two used to be synonymous, apparently). Lucia is the daughter of a successful grocery store owner/operator and the most beautiful girl below 14th street. She is engaged to the son of a local baker but when she realizes his family wants her to quit her highly coveted position in the custom clothing department at B. Altman and move into their house to share all the cooking and cleaning tasks with her future mother-in-law, she breaks it off and causes quite the neighborhood stir. She causes even more of a stir when she immediately begins dating a very non-Italian, seemingly uppity charmer who quite literally mesmerizes her with a nice car, fancy restaurants and a lovely fur coat.
Needless to say the charming man turns out to be a bit of a dud, but the ending to the entire saga is so fitting and wonderful I want to write a screenplay (of which I know nothing) and ship it off to a movie studio executive (of whom I know none) and have ourselves a nice little summer blockbuster. But I simply cannot give away anything about the ending, so you’ll just have to read it to find out what I mean!
What I can give away, however, are two things that happen in this book that a) do not contribute to the adorableness one bit and b) seem to be common themes in all books I have recently read, through no fault of my own: 1) Bad things happening to pregnant women/babies, and 2) sick/dying dads. Unfortunately this book covers both in very scary ways, and I am left wondering which books I can read that do NOT feature either thing in any way shape or form. (I’m looking at you, Andy Cohen, whose Most Talkative: Stories from the Front Lines of Pop Culture is up next on my reading roster.)
One more thing: A little side plot of Lucia, Lucia is the downfall of custom clothing departments. These stores used to have in-house designers and stylists and seamstresses galore to create fabulous gowns and such, a notion which has now all but disappeared in favor of mass quantity production. Kind of sad when you really think about it. (Sad because I wish I had someone custom making me fabulous gowns for which I actually had occasions to wear.) I also find it quite funny that Lucia’s house in the Village was eventually turned into a collection of studio apartments; us New Yorkers just love living in three-“room” apartments that used to be just one person’s bedroom.