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Johnny Critelli and the Knifemen

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Johnny Critelli and the Knifemen

Current Status:
In Season
Frank Lentricchia

We gave it a B+

There’s not enough story in these two stories for a movie, but you can still imagine Robert De Niro as the patriarch, arguing in the kitchen with his friend Critelli about Christ and socialism, circa 1947, in an obsessed, distracted, run-on Italian-American voice. Both novellas in Johnny Critelli and the Knifemen draw on the author’s boyhood in an Italian neighborhood of Utica, N.Y., in the 1940s and ’50s. They bob and weave, punch and counterpunch their way through memory and desire, past and present — through Mickey Mantle, pepperoni, Tintoretto, O.J. Simpson, girls, whores, mothers, immigrants, cancer, cannoli, and sex, lots of sour sex. What they dredge up is somber or funny or lose-your-lunch ugly. The sabotage and sadness are real, and the language out of the streets and kitchens and bedrooms is obscenely authentic.