On Tuesday evening, acclaimed novelist and Swarthmore graduate Christopher Castellani ’94 treated listeners to a tantalizing preview of his forthcoming novel. Castellani, the author of “A Kiss from Maddalena” (2003) and “The Saint of Lost Things” (2005), is back at Swarthmore leading this semester’s Advanced Fiction Workshop.
For his reading, Castellani selected three excerpts from his latest novel, a work in progress. “I’m not sure if any of what you’ll hear tonight will actually end up in the book,” he remarked as he began. He read three sections from the beginning of the novel, starting with the prologue. The prologue describes contemporary life in an Italian village, a tourist destination that houses a resort.
Castellani brought his listeners back to the United States with the introduction of Frankie Grasso in the first chapter. “[Frankie] is the character that’s most like me,” said Castellani. Frankie is a graduate student and the son of Italian immigrants. In the first chapter, we learn about his relationship with his close-knit Catholic family, and about the affair he is having with one of his professors: the second chapter takes place on a train, where Frankie unexpectedly encounters a young Irish-American woman. The humorous details that Castellani weaves into his writing frequently provoked laughter in the audience. “Thank you for laughing,” Castellani jokingly remarked at one point.
Leaving the audience eager for more, Castellani finished the reading and offered to take questions. In addition to the chapters written from Frankie’s point of view, he explained, he is writing one chapter from the perspective of each of Frankie’s immediate family members. “I hope they’re distinct enough in the book…that’s my main concern,” he said. He also revealed that the novel holds surprises even for him: regarding a character mentioned in the prologue, he said, “I am actually writing to find out who that is, which is kind of fun.”