By Thaddeus Rutkowski
In this fast-paced novel of tangled family relationships set just before the start of the US war against Iraq, Patricia Dunn tells the story of Angela Campanosi, a twenty-nine-year-old antiwar activist who returns to the Bronx after several years in Los Angeles. Angela has received an invitation to her brother’s wedding, but she doesn’t know why the invitation was so late in coming or why her brother is marrying this particular woman: a nurse who is about to be sent to Iraq. Further complicating matters is the fact that the groom is MIA when Angela arrives—and no one will tell her where he is.
Angela’s thoughts turn inward as she remembers sins she believes she has committed—deeds that caused her to flee the Bronx and lose touch with her family. “I needed to get away, far away,” she tells the reader. “Distance didn’t make the guilt vanish, but it had made life bearable enough for me to take action, make changes, and be a better person.” For a long while, we don’t know exactly what happened, but Angela blames herself for the accidental fall that put her brother in a wheelchair. She doesn’t know if he still holds that incident against her, because she can’t find him to ask. She receives no help from her stubborn mother, her unrecovered alcoholic father, her foodie uncle, and a onetime friend/boyfriend who has (almost) become a member of her family.
Things get wild when Angela receives a request to be her brother’s best man, makes a trip into Manhattan and gets caught in an antiwar demonstration, and visits an art opening where all of the works (by the friend/boyfriend) represent members of her family—all before she reunites with her brother. A subplot involves a large amount of money owed by the brother to some gangster wannabes. For much of the story, Angela is on the outside of her family, looking in. “All the years I’d been away,” she tells us, “I could only see [my brother] Jimmy from ten years ago, sad and hopeless. He’d moved on. He was able to express joy. He, my whole . . . family, was happy. Happy without me.”
The novel, by the author of Rebels by Accident, is published by Bordighera Press, a nonprofit dedicated to Italian and Italian American literature. As the story unfolds, you’ll meet characters living more or less as they did in the old country—but in the northern Bronx, at the last stop of the Number 6 subway train. In addition to Angela’s family, you’ll find various local personalities, including the Beach Chair Ladies, whose role is to keep the gossip going. Anyone, Italian or not, who has had an immigrant experience will appreciate the push and pull that exists between an original culture and a new society. “At the end of the day,” says one of the local characters (who turns out to be a building contractor, not a gangster), “there’s love.”
You can find the book here: https://www.spdbooks.org/Products/9781599541730/last-stop-on-the-6.aspx
Thaddeus Rutkowski is the author of seven books, most recently Tricks of Light, a poetry collection. He teaches at Medgar Evers College and received a fiction writing fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts.