A sequel to The Girls of Piazza d’Amore, this novel is a sweeping epic that chronicles the lives of three women of different generations, all living in Montreal, but connected and haunted by the same Italian village past. After her childhood friend, Lucia— protagonist of The Girls of Piazza D’Amoreis found beaten, an apparent victim of domestic violence, and Lucia's husband disappears, Cathy, a high school teacher, takes Lucia's daughter, Angie, into her home. This arrangement causes conflict between Cathy and her live-in boyfriend, Sean. There are rumours that Lucia’s family is connected to the Montreal Mafia. Sean is involved in Federal politics and sees Angie’s presence in their home as a political liability. Out of loyalty to her old friend, Cathy refuses to let Angie go. Meanwhile, Lucia's husband is located in Italy from where he makes accusations of corruption against Lucia's family and their business partner with ties to the Liberal Member of Parliament for whom Sean works. These revelations are brought to the attention of the Montreal tabloids by a journalist, Antoine Le Grand, with whom Cathy has had a problematic relationship since her teens, when she solicited his help as a writing mentor. All of these elements come to a head when Cathy returns home after a Halloween party and discovers Angie is missing. She desperately searches for her and, in doing so, comes face to face the underbelly of the city and the school.
Connie Guzzo-McParland has a Master’s degree in Creative Writing from Concordia University. Her novel, The Girls of Piazza d’Amore, was published in 2013 and shortlisted for the Concordia First Novel Award by the Quebec Writer’s Federation. Since 2000, she has been an active member of the Association of Italian Canadian Writers and its secretary till 2012. Since 2011, she has participated in a reading committee set up by the Istituto Italiano di Cultura in Montreal to award Italy’s Strega Prize. In 2010, together with writer and business partner Michael Mirolla, she took the helm of Guernica Editions filling the role of President and Chief Administrator. She lives in Montreal.
The Women of Saturn by Connie Guzzo-McParland
reviewed by The Miramichi Reader - March 5, 2017
This ambitious novel (420 pages) by Ms Guzzo-McParland is an epic story of an Italian family emigrating to Canada, some (like Caterina the narrator) to join their family, others (like her older friend Lucia) to meet husbands for the first time. They make the voyage by the sea in the late 1950's onboard the Saturnalia, from which the story takes its title. Caterina, her mother Teresa along with Lucia the teenage proxy bride are "the women" of the Saturnalia.
While many of the passengers experience sea sickness for much of the voyage, Caterina and Lucia do not and have the freedom of the ship. Younger Caterina is charged with monitoring Lucia, ensuring that she doesn't get involved with any of the overly-attentive male staff, a task which Caterina neither likes nor is entirely successful at. It is here, onboard the Saturnalia that the back story is developed and the reclusive, bookish young Caterina is awakened to the realities of life. Engrossed, she wants to remember it all and write it down with aspirations of becoming an author one day.
Presently, Lucia has been the victim of a vicious beating and lies comatose in a Montreal hospital. Speculative ties are made to the Montreal mafia, and while Caterina cannot quite believe it, she feels she must find out how her fellow 'woman of Saturnalia' came to be in this situation.
"There are still too many circles floating around me, all bits of one life! How to make sense of it all in a linear form? There are still some huge gaps in Lucia's story between our ocean crossing and now."
Her search takes her back to the rustic Calabrian village of Mulirena, where she and Lucia grew up and where Lucia was to marry Antonio until an incident occurred and she was forced to become a proxy bride for Pasquale, who was already in Montreal. Now, with his wife in a coma, Pasquale has fled back to Italy and more questions are raised in Caterina's mind, as well as amongst the paesani in Montreal. Added to her worries are Lucia's troubled teen daughter Angie and her boyfriend Sean's aspirations for public office and how all this reflects poorly on his public image.
A greatly enjoyable, well-written and constructed story with many layers that kept the narrative moving along briskly and the pages turning. The story's setting gives an insight into the Montreal of the post-Olympic era when the construction scandals were exposed and mob ties were the centre of attention, causing the Italian community to be further stereotyped.
Yet, The Women of Saturn winds up with a somewhat dissatisfying and all too sudden conclusion, leaving this reader with more questions than answers. Notwithstanding, this book is a fine novel demonstrating that Ms Guzzo-McParland can write a gripping novel, though one that begs a more definitive conclusion.
I had long ago lost contact with Lucia. Only since
her daughter’s inclusion in my class have we spoken
again from time to time, and every time, images of
the boat trip to Canada we took together sneak into
Angie’s behavior in class has been disruptive, though
not unexpected. Even my mother discouraged me from
getting involved with the girl. “What did you expect
from Lucia’s daughter?” she said. In her Calabrian
village mind, character and destiny are predetermined
by the family into which one is born.
My destiny seems defined by mismatched furniture
and ill-fitting clothes, I muse as I stare at the unmade
double bed, piled like a bargain table of used clothing
with the skirts, blouses, pants and dresses I’ve taken
from my packed closet, tried on, and found unsuitable
to wear. Scattered next to my pillow, underneath the
clothes, are some fashion magazines and a book, The
Betrothed, my bedtime reading from the previous
night. It’s a translation of an Italian novel I had read
in the lounge and deck of the boat that brought me
to Canada, the Saturnia, while a Roman steward
who claimed to be a descendent of the god Saturn,
hovered around Lucia. By sheer coincidence I came
across the book at the Concordia University library
during the summer after I heard from Lucia and I
brought it home.
But last night the book hadn’t helped me fall asleep.
I felt agitated by the stilted and forced English translation.
I stood out on my balcony for a while to admire
the new moon before returning to bed. I fell asleep,
half-dreaming of floating in outer space reaching for