REVIEW: The Patron Saint of Second Chances by Christine Simon
The self-appointed mayor of a tiny Italian village is determined to save his hometown no matter the cost in this charming, hilarious, and heartwarming debut novel.
Vacuum repairman and self-appointed mayor of Prometto, Italy (population 212) Signor Speranza has a problem: unless he can come up with 70,000 euros to fix the town’s pipes, the water commission will shut off the water to the village and all its residents will be forced to disperse. So in a bid to boost tourism—and revenue—he spreads a harmless rumor that movie star Dante Rinaldi will be filming his next project nearby.
Unfortunately, the plan works a little too well, and soon everyone in town wants to be a part of the fictional film—the village butcher will throw in some money if Speranza can find roles for his fifteen enormous sons, Speranza’s wistfully adrift daughter reveals an unexpected interest in stage makeup, and his hapless assistant Smilzo volunteers a screenplay that’s not so secretly based on his undying love for the film’s leading lady. To his surprise—and considerable consternation, Speranza realizes that the only way to keep up the ruse is to make the movie for real.
As the entire town becomes involved (even the village priest invests!) Signor Speranza starts to think he might be able to pull this off. But what happens when Dante Rinaldi doesn’t show up? Or worse, what if he does?
Dear Ms. Simon,
The blurb for “Patron Saint of Second Chances” sounded entrancing. Sadly it was not as charming and delightful as I wished it was. Or maybe it was too charming and silly. It turned out to be more of a genial farce. I could see this being turned into a movie like “For Roseanna” or as you mention, “Waking Ned Devine.” In fact, I think I would have enjoyed the story more had I seen it as a film. There is a generous amount of suspension of belief needed in order to buy into the plot and keep going but the book makes that fairly easy if this is what the reader wants to read.
Mayor Nino Speranza has put off the visit by the plumber from the water commission to check the pipes of his tiny hometown village as long as he can. But when their true state is revealed, he gets a whopping estimate for fixing them that must be paid in full within 60 days or the water will be turned off. If the water goes, the town goes. Desperate to keep this from happening, he fixes on the way a neighboring town has managed to drum up business and revenue. He will need to stretch the truth until it threatens to snap back in his face but if he can keep about 34 balls juggling in the air at one time, he might just pull it off.
I didn’t find it “hilariously funny and beautifully written” but rather gently amusing at times, overly silly and slapstickish at others, and mixed with a little bit of sadness that basically we have a small dying Italian village with all the young people leaving and a mayor dedicated to trying to save what is left of it. Knowing nothing about Italian law, I’m not sure if the set up – the town not being able to afford to get its water pipes fixed – would actually lead to the dispersal of the townspeople – all 212 of them – but who knows.
There are a lot of characters who get thrown at the reader in a short amount of time and as most of them are introduced as Signor or Signora Name, it gets confusing telling one from another. After a while for a lot of them, I stopped trying. An elderly dog and a puppy also take up a lot of the plot time so add pee and puppy poo to the whoopie cushion jokes that I did not find funny.
Signore Speranza’s plan is far-fetched to begin with and only gets more so as the story progresses and the lies pile up. Frankly after a while, it’s preposterous to believe that the townspeople would still be swallowing it so perhaps this is a case of wishful thinking on a grand scale. Readers are advised to just let go as well and enjoy the antics and mayhem. Speranza is visited with twinges of guilt about what he’s doing but as it’s for “the greater good” rather than his own personal gain, he keeps going. It closely follows outlines of plots of comedy farces I’ve read and seen before. A heaping helping of “small town comes together” rounds things out. I’m not sorry I read it but the book did not live up to my hopes. C