“I’ve heard that some volcanic eruptions are soft with oozing streams of lava dancing down the side of the volcano like a Las Vegas chorus line. My father’s eruptions were quick, like bricks being thrown through a window.” Denise Tolan’s memoir-in-essays traces the legacy of violence in an Italian American family, showing how abuse reverberates both in the body and mind and how everything is connected through literal and metaphorical blood. This raw, heartbreaking collection lays out how the origins of violence can infect the roots of a family tree, and reveals what eventually grows from those roots. Tolan asserts—in no uncertain terms—the importance of speaking out to break the lineage of family violence. Her essays offer a connection to anyone who suffered childhood shame, violence, or fear, and provide reassurance that they are not alone.
Italian BloodDenise Tolan
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|6 × 9 in
Denise Tolan spares no one in this taut, clear-eyed, immensely moving memoir, least of all her “Little Miss Perfect” self. A daughter/mother dialogue, a case study of paternal rage and brutality, an indictment of patriarchy, and survivor’s chronicle all in one, Italian Blood offers page after page of hard-won insights, salted with black humor. Read it straight through and let the haunting begin.
—Kat Meads, author of Dear DeeDee
Denise Tolan’s essays present an unflinching and unsentimental examination of an abusive childhood and the small ways she found love and connection to survive. The stories are moving, sometimes funny, and always rich with her humming heart. This book is for those who’ve known abuse, but it’s also for anyone who’s known love, anyone who’s known heartache, and anyone who loves a good story. In other words, this book is for us all.
—Kerry Cohen, PsyD, LPC, author of Loose Girl: A Memoir of Promiscuity and Crazy for You
from The Underside of Normal
“Hey,” I asked, as he headed toward the kitchen to push the button that would close the garage door. “Did you happen to see my dad in the garage?”
“Your dad?” His smile changed into a look of concern. “Why would your dad be in the garage?”
“He should be in two white boxes somewhere in there. I think they’re white. They would say ‘human cremains’ on the top.”
As a kid, I’d been stunned into silence by the scene in Fantasia where Mickey Mouse puts on the sorcerer’s hat and sets into motion a vortex of chaos. The idea of setting a broom in motion with the intent to metaphorically sweep the world away appealed to me. But as an adult, I understood the danger of intentions. I should have kept my mouth shut about the boxes filled with my father. If they’d gotten lost, no one would have blamed me. Instead, like the sorcerer’s apprentice, I’d picked up the baton and set loose the past.
from Divisible by Thirteen
When we landed in San Antonio, Texas, my father hugged me before anyone else. “Now I’ll say happy birthday,” he said, handing me a perfectly square, wrapped box. The box turned out to contain a round Panasonic ball and chain radio. Nothing my father handed out was ever what it seemed. I could almost picture the radio being used as an object for him to throw one night when he was angry. But today, he smiled as I held the gift.
“A grown-up gift for a grown-up girl,” he said.
So much irony in that box.
He wore a pair of slacks with a collared shirt tucked in and his good shoes without laces. He looked like most of the Italian men we had just left behind: dark wavy hair, confident eyes, a cruel jaw. My brother and I walked together toward the parking lot while my father and mother walked behind. They held hands and smiled shyly at one another like a couple of teenagers who’d been separated for the summer while they attended camp.
When my brother and I spotted our dog Bianco sitting like a chauffeur in the driver’s seat of my dad’s truck, we began to run. I opened the door and Bianco licked me crazily, hungrily, without restraint. He had been my twelfth birthday present. My brother got in the truck and held up an empty McDonald’s bag. Bianco sniffed it.
“You ate at McDonalds?” my brother asked, suspiciously. My father hated McDonalds.
“The dog likes their milk shakes,” he said, shrugging. “What are you
going to do?”
We all laughed. The moment felt like a scene from a situation comedy I hoped to watch again and again. In the tight backseat of the truck I held Bianco and tried to smell the milk shake already dry in the fur around his snout.
At a stoplight a family in the car next to us looked into our truck window. I was proud of what they saw—my beautiful mother wearing fresh lipstick, the American Eskimo dog licking my chin, and my father singing loudly and beautifully with the windows wide open—“When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s amore.” I would have been jealous if I’d been in the other car.
For the first few days of my thirteenth year, I thought our yearly rituals might have worked—the candles, the prayers, the trip to Saint Anthony’s grotto. Then my father woke in the middle of the night. He might have tripped over the dog or an old memory, but whatever hit him started the familiar descent into his unique brand of madness.
Denise Cimbaro Tolan
Pub date – October 2023
Trade paper – 6 x 9″