Varina Palladino’s Jersey Italian Love Story by Terri-Lynne DeFino
What’s it About?
An utterly delightful and surprising family drama about a boisterous, complicated Italian family determined to help their widowed mother find a new boyfriend.
Terri-Lynne DeFinohas written the perfect Valentine’s Day gift for her readers with Varina Palladino’s Jersey Italian Love Story (William Morrow). It is certain to win over a legion of new fans unfamiliar with her previous works. This charming novel has it all; delivering heart, humor, unexpected romance and top-notch writing.
It’s easily comparable to one of the rom-com bestsellers of 2022, Emily Henry’s delightful Book Lovers, as full of fun, surprises and a little heartache. If you are a fan of the films Moonstruck or My Big Fat Greek Wedding with their loud, loving, exuberant and relatable middle-class families, you are in for a real treat.
A Gathering of Four Generations
Meet four generations of the Palladino Family, residents of a small fictional town named Wyldale, New Jersey with a population that once was made up of predominantly Italian immigrants and their American born offspring. Sunday dinners, weddings, funerals or gatherings of these relatives and their significant others register on the “PNL” or Palladino Noise level quipped the youngest member of the famiglia.
These are close-knit Jersey Italians who show up en masse at Varina’s for Sunday afternoon dinners with macaroni and gravy, meatballs or her specialty chicken picatta (Recipes included). The aroma of garlic and ripe Roma tomatoes slowly simmering permeates the air and conversations become more animated as another glass of wine is poured. It makes one hope to wrangle a dinner invitation!
Each chapter begins with a quick lesson in Jersey Italian consisting of a word or two, sometimes with a phonetic pronunciation key, and a highly personal definition or cultural interpretation. Terri-Lynne DeFino informs us in an introduction/disclaimer the words are a collection of expressions from the older generation of her family that she wishes to preserve before they are lost. She is proudly proclaiming her Jersey Italian heritage although she does currently reside in Connecticut with her immediate family. This informal dictionary adds sparkle and panache as well as setting the stage for the next chapter.
Portrait of a Large Italian Family
Varina Palladino’s Jersey Italian Love Story begins on Christmas Eve. It’s the perfect time to meet the family who gather for a huge, traditional meal that adds seven different fish to the feast that will conclude with a variety of cannoli. Varina Palladino is a busy 70-year-old widow; the center and anchor of the family, who keeps house, cooks and runs Palladino’s neighborhood Italian deli, bakery and grocery store open six days per week. The once thriving business, originally owned and operated with her husband Dino who died 12 years ago, has lost some customers to online shopping and better stocked supermarkets but still provides a reasonably good income.
Sylvia Spina, a youthful 92 old is tiny in stature yet remains vibrant with a larger than life personality and plenty of charm, has lived with her daughter since her husband died suddenly nearly 40 years ago. Varina’s older brother Tommy, the crown prince of the family, will soon arrive with his wife and teenage grandkids.
Varina’s 50 year-old movie star handsome son Davide will be next. He is always impeccably dressed and groomed reflecting the status of a self-made (and straight) man who owns a chain of upscale hair salons. Davide is one of the most eligible bachelors in Bergen County, content to live alone in an enormous home.
Dante, age 48, her middle son, is also a hard-working man whose construction business specializes in renovating, remodeling and upgrading classic, older homes rather than tearing them down and erecting McMansions. Dante’s ex-wife Pandora will also be present. She remains a welcome family member after their amicable divorce.
Their college age daughter Gabriella often helps her grandmother in the store, filling in on vacations and holidays and eager to put her ideas into updating the deli and bakery into place. Everyone arrives bringing wine, dessert or another superfluous contribution to the banquet.
Conflict, Chosen Family and Life Lessons
Unbeknownst to the family, Donatella is unavoidably absent from the gathering, languishing in a holding cell in the local jail, disallowed from being released on bail because of her many prior arrests. She is 35 but as carefree and irresponsible as she was as a juvenile delinquent.
The only daughter and the “bonus” baby of the family, she is described as being “flighty”, untrustworthy, lacking impulse control and completely impetuous. She has never committed any major crimes and the arrests have generally been alcohol or disorderly conduct related charges without convictions. Over the years, she has cost her mother heartache, sleepless nights and a lot of money.
Donatella has been a will-o’-the-wisp who brings trouble with her as surely as the wind blows. She relies heavily on Paulie, her best friend since age 5. He is unable to rescue her until after the holidays this time.
Paul Rudolph Vittone, “Paulie” is neither a blood relative, nor even a distant cousin, but was taken in as a rejected, homeless teenager after coming out to his parents. He was instantly thrown out of their family home with only the clothes on his back. They not only stopped speaking to him but quickly sold their house and moved out of state. The Palladinos were his understanding refuge.
Paulie completed high school and began working as a laborer on Dante’s job sites, gradually learning the business and becoming a valued employee contributing design ideas. He continues to rent a small upstairs apartment from Varina who regards him affectionately as one of her own.
Paulie had learned one of life’s toughest lessons that one’s own kin may inflict the cruelest and deepest wounds. He knows from experience that chosen family may be closer than blood relations. These are the people who stand up for you, show up for you and pick you up when you need them most. They are loyal, loving, steadfast and true. He conceals his love for his employer Dante, fearing this would cause an irreparable rift.
Matchmaking Scheme With Unforeseen Consequences
Major changes will be coming soon for the Palladino clan after the Christmas holidays. Sylvia frets Varina will be old and lonely when she dies and is easily persuaded by her granddaughter Donatello to participate in a harebrained scheme. They create a fake account on a matchmaking site in Varina’s name. Hilarity ensues as this scheme has unforeseen consequences.
By nature, children tend to be selfish creatures, no matter their age. No one ever bothered to ask what Varina might want. Assumptions were made for her from her early marriage to present day. She has been the self-sacrificing caregiver and at 70, the time to do what she would like is long overdue.
Her heart’s desire is to have peace and quiet for a week or two on a long cruise where she can be the pampered one. Her second wish would be to have a good friend and confidante. Her family means everything to her but her outside contacts are limited to business or church.
It’s time for Terri-Lynne DeFino’s beguiling novel Varina Palladino’s Jersey Italian Love Story to begin in earnest. Like me, you may read it in one sitting, smiling and laughing throughout the journey. It’s a lovely book!
About Terri-Lynne DeFino:
Terri-Lynne DeFino was born and raised in New Jersey but escaped to the wilds of Connecticut back in the ’90s when her kids were babies and everyone wore flannel. She is the second of four children born to a homemaker and a then-fledgling attorney, in a Paterson, NJ household that included two grandparents and the occasional uncle, where Sunday dinner was a given and the noise level often required earplugs.
According to her mother, she started writing stories at the age of seven, and learned to cook at any elbow she could wedge herself under. These days, her famiglia is larger, and louder, which might explain why she’s still in Connecticut, but if you knock on her door, she’ll invite you in and feed you, because you can take the Italian girl out of Jersey, but you can’t take the Jersey Italian out of the girl.
Publish Date: 2/14/2023
Author: Terri-Lynne DeFino
Page Count: 416 pages
Publisher: William Morrow