Imagine you are asked to plan a gathering for a feuding family of six that has not been gathered together in over six years. Add to this the fact that the parents of this family are newly separated and that your own life is falling apart. This is the challenge that befalls twenty-three year old Silvia Greco when she is drafted into helping her mother plan a party for her younger brother’s high school graduation. She takes it on, and in doing so, must negotiate with each member of her family, appealing to their individual needs and interests, in order to get them to go. Through this process, she learns that peace is not something that is easily achieved or freely existing. It is something that needs to be created, cultivated and nurtured. In other words, she learns that “olive branches don’t grow on trees.” Her passion for reuniting her family grows when she realizes this gathering may save them all from devolving into the families that her parents come from- families in which siblings sue and despise one another. Her passion grows more when she realizes the connection between her own restlessness, and her growing up in a house in which peace is nonexistent and fighting is the norm.
Originally from New Jersey, Grace Mattioli currently works as a librarian in San Francisco, where she lives with her husband and two cats.
She started writing from an early age and recalls that one of the first stories she wrote was called “The Magic Pen.” In this story, the main character had a pen that, when used, would create stories as if by magic.
In college, she studied English literature, and gravitated towards contemporary fiction. Some of her favourite and most influential authors include: Flannery O’Connor, Ernest Hemingway, Edward Abbey and Douglas Adams.
She loves beautifully written prose and humorous fiction. She has also taken several writing workshops, including some in fiction writing and screenwriting, and has written several short stories and some flash fiction which can be found on The Short Humour site: https://www.short-humour.org.uk/.
Grace had always dreamed of one day writing a novel, but was not sure that she had it in her until recently. She says that she thoroughly enjoyed writing “Olive Branches Don’t Grow On Trees” and plans to start a new novel very soon.
When, in a recent interview, I asked Grace about the premise for ‘Olive Branches Don’t Grow On Trees’ and what message she hoped to leave its readers with, she had this to say …
“I knew that I had to pick a theme that I felt passionate about as I could not imagine starting and completing a novel with a theme in which I was not passionate. So I picked the theme of peace which is so close to my heart. In addition, I am from a feuding family and I had tried for years, unsuccessfully, to make peace in my family. In writing a novel about a woman who has some success in making peace in her family, I was able to enjoy the satisfaction my character felt vicariously.”
“The big lesson I would like people to take away, having read my book, is that peace is something that needs to be created and cultivated.”
WORDS FROM THE BOOK
“]You know most people don’t even know how to say sorry. It’s tough to say sorry
Grandma Tucci was only too willing to admit to being wrong because she knew that admitting to being wrong was how she could become a better person.
Silvia knew, that in his heart of hearts, he would rather build than destroy. Destroying had just become a habit, and habits are, after all, hard to break.
She felt that peace was something that began at home, and if it could not be achieved in one’s very own home, then trying to achieve it in the world would be extremely difficult, or even impossible
MY THOUGHTS ABOUT THE BOOK
“It was the sound of togetherness. The sound of six becoming one. The sound that rises above it all. The sound of peace.”
There is a phrase, with its origins in The Bible, which sprang very much to mind as I was reading this book, which goes something along the lines of .. ‘the sins of the fathers shall be visited upon the sons’.
We have a storyline, totally character driven, which in itself isn’t very far reaching for the wider community at large, revolves around the inter-personal relationships of a single family and features only a handful of characters, yet is highly emotionally charged and where every player in the saga has an important and pivotal role to play in the end game.
The writing itself is very perceptive and intuitive, creating some moments of powerful and intense dialogue, between the disparate members of this totally dysfunctional ‘family at war’, both with each other and often with themselves. Occasionally, lighter, almost humorous moments, occur spontaneously, usually almost without the characters even realising it is happening and times like this, you feel there is almost hope for some kind of reconciliation and a ‘cease fire’ in the feuding.
Each character is well drawn and defined, complex, with instantly recognisable traits and attitudes, evoking strong emotions as I was reading, but still leaving me with an overriding feeling of loss and sadness, as they all search for a sense of belonging.
I have often heard it said, that in a family with multiple children, the eldest and youngest are invariably and generally, in an unpremeditated way, the most cherished and cosseted, with the middle siblings often having to band together to make their voices heard. In the Greco family unit, this is definitely the case and seems to constitute a genuine, if unspoken, cause of some of their problems. As the eldest and a girl, Angie is still ‘Daddy’s Little Angel’ and Vince, as the youngest, is most definitely ‘Mummy’s Little Darling’. Cosmo and the main protagonist in the story, his sister, Silvia are the stereotypical ‘middle’ children, the lost voices and invisible bodies in the crowd and although not necessarily the closest emotionally, they have an unquestioning acceptance of one another, which leads to a calm and peaceful atmosphere whenever they are alone together.
There is just a basic lack of communication and interpersonal skills, when all of the family are together, which makes them even more divided and alone, as they watch their hopes and dreams disappear, with the worsening situation, as the family unit starts to disintegrate.
Both the Greco parents, Frank and Donna, have responsible and respectable careers, yet their private lives are shambolic and chaotic, which has resulted in their recent acrimonious separation. When we are given an insight into both their own individual childhood experiences and family life, in a moment of quiet reflection by Silvia, a greater understanding of the present situation between them, is immediately apparent. Unfortunately these same strong and not particularly attractive traits are reappearing in the present generation of Greco children, where once again, you only have to look to the parents for the apparent cause of the distress and animosity which prevails.
The four siblings each deal with their worsening sense of isolation, both from their parents and each other, in totally different, yet seemingly equally self-destructive ways.
Angie has decided that she needs to break all ties with her disparate family, both physically and emotionally and has married out of the situation, but is she truly happy with her contrived and lonely facade?
Cosmo lives his own life, in exactly the way he chooses, however in doing so, he has become almost insular and reclusive, which of course doesn’t fit easily with his parents’ perception as to what he should be like and doesn’t appear to make him happy either.
Vince as the youngest, is the main pawn in Frank and Donna’s game and he is pulled from pillar to post, as they both vie to decide his future, with both of them using Vince as the proverbial stick to beat each other with. His open and focused honesty is refreshing in this household, yet even he is on the point of admitting defeat in trying to keep what is left of his family together.
Silvia, the main protagonist in this war zone, is the artistic member of the family and possibly the most misunderstood of her parents offspring. She has lived a rather bohemian lifestyle, unable to settle to any career and constantly on the move from place to place. She does seem drawn back to home from time to time, although Frank maintains that this is only when her money runs out and she needs a roof over her head. To some extent I could see Frank’s point of view, however I thought that basically Silvia was the one most affected by the family feuding and that when her mother charges Silvia with the job of bringing all the family together, in an attempt to instigate some kind of reconciliation, she is secretly rather pleased and keen to succeed. She does go to great lengths to cajole and persuade the individual members of the family, that they are each the single most important part of the equation and without them nothing will be possible. Silvia’s increasing feeling of desperation, as plans start to fall apart around her ears, is touching and poignant, especially when, to her absolute horror, it is her mother who begins to revel in her new found independence and freedom, when she has hitherto been the rock and stabilising influence for Silvia. Eventually, through sheer determination and not a small amount of good luck, her mission comes to fruition, so on neutral territory and all seated around the table, small seeds of Silvia’s success begin to take root, although it is only through the catalyst of the next generation, that the present day members of the Greco family, begin to really realise the futility of past battles and feuds. They come to a silent and tacit agreement about the future direction they should take, both collectively and as individuals and although it is apparent that “olive branches certainly don’t grow on trees” and reconciliation has to be worked for and earned, their story just goes to show what can be achieved when you have at least one person who really wants to see change occur and can make inroads into convincing others to make an effort.
Grace’s intimate knowledge of her subject shows in her frank and open style of writing, which invites the reader into the lives of the Greco family, as though they were long lost friends and therefore there is no need to stand on ceremony, or pretend that things are not just as they are.
The question raised now, is one of just how much our childhood experiences influence our adult lives … is there a genuine genetic trait, which in some way devoids us of responsibility for our actions, or is this merely an excuse, making it all too easy to cite previous generations for own continued behavioural patterns … Are ‘the sins of the father visited upon the sons’, or do we have the power and potential to shape our own destiny?
An amazingly perceptive, cleanly written and well told story, marks Grace Mattioli’s debut novel.
This book was a review copy, sent to me as a Kindle download by the author, Grace Mattioli and as such, was free of charge.
This in no way influenced any comments I may have expressed about the book, in any blog article I have posted. Any thoughts or comments are my own personal opinion and I am in no way being monetarily compensated for this, or any other article.
I personally do not agree with ‘rating’ a book, as the overall experience is all a matter of personal taste, which varies from reader to reader. However some review sites do demand a rating value, so when this review is posted to such a site, it will attract a 4 out of 5.