40 years and…

It’s hard to believe that Mario Puzo’s The Godfather was published forty years ago. The story has become part of the American lexicon thanks to the popular movies adapted from the novel. I’ve read the complete book many times and frequently find myself reading passages. What I like most about the book is the sweeping nature of the story. It stretches from the east coast to the west coast of the United States as well as to Sicily. Similarly, the character and plot development span the outer reaches of human experience. One thing missing from the movie adaptation was a more in depth look at the Johnny Fontane character. Thankfully, the book has entire sections devoted to Fontane, showing a character who develops into more than a simply crooner.

Puzo has left a brilliant legacy with this book. At the same time, don’t neglect Fools Die, another brilliant look at humanity, it’s foibles and follies, something Puzo knew how to show better than most.

Published in: on August 19, 2009 at 3:17 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Some Mario Puzo Novels

Mario Puzo is famously known for his novel, The Godfather. I’ve read the book three times. It is definitely among his best. However, another book of his that I found to be very good and more insightful was The Fortunate Pilgrim. This is another immigrant tale, albeit one that is much shorter. It takes place in New York City and features all the characters you might expect including a woman named Lucia Santa. Every one of them is well drawn, each with their motivations, flaws, and virtues.

And then there is Fools Die. Fools Die is a story not only about Las Vegas, but about human nature. (I’ve also read this book three times.) One of the most fascinating characters in the book is named Gronevelt and he owns the Xanadu Casino. He’s as much an archetype as Don Corleone, but with a more mathematical sensibility that he applies not only to the returns on his gaming tables, but also to the people around him. Gronevelt knows that people will try to steal from his casino, that they will attempt scams, that they think they can somehow beat the house. All the while, the percentage is against them, not to mention a keen observer of human behavior like Gronevelt who can be on the merciless side. Thus, fools die, literally and figuratively.

Still, there is more to this book than simple casino derring-do and big-shot hustling. The book takes some wild tangents to follow a budding novelist, a wacky prize-winning author, and some other minor characters. If you’ve read The Godfather, you’ll remember that the book followed Johnny Fontain to Hollywood along with his hard drinking neighborhood upstart friend. Some people complain about this type of diversion in a book. I actually enjoy them, especially when a writer like Puzo keeps the characters and plot interesting to the point where you don’t realize how far off the main highway you’ve gone until you’re on your way back.

Too many novels I’ve read of late are too short, too bland, and too simple so as to leave me wondering what, exactly, was the story. Mario Puzo never takes the short or the easy road in the novels I mention above. He drags the story up a hill and the climb is not only worth it but also leaves you with a view you never forget. The finely tuned power of Don Corleone, the ruthless calculating mind of Gronevelt, or the perseverance of Lucia Santa, all deliver the reader to a place they will never forget.

So, if you haven’t checked out these Mario Puzo novels lately, I highly recommend a visit. You won’t be disappointed. As for his other books, well, they’re not on my list of favorites.

Published in: on August 16, 2008 at 10:04 pm  Leave a Comment  
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