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‘Olive Branches Don’t Grow On Trees’ by Grace Mattioli

THE SYNOPSIS

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.

THE AUTHOR

Picture of author Grace MattioliOriginally 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.

 

Written by
Yvonne

I can’t remember a time, even as a child, when I haven’t been passionate about books and reading.
I began blogging, when I realised just how many other people out there shared my passion for the written word and I have been continually amazed at the wealth of books that are available and the amount of great new friends I have made, from literally 'The Four Corners Of The World'.

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13 comments
  • Olive Branches Don’t Grow On Trees sounds very good. I enjoy stories where families and their complex relationships are showcased. “peace is something that needs to be created and cultivated”<-that is a great philosophy! This sounds like the type of book that makes for good discussion.
    Wonderful review Yvonne. I do believe that as much as our pasts can affect our future, in the long run we ultimately have the the power to shape our own destiny. If anything, to at least try and stop the negativity from affectiong the next generation.
    As you mention in your review, all it takes is one person to get a positive change going, that one person can motivate the rest.

    • Hi Naida,

      ‘Olive Branches Don’t Grow On Trees’, is definitely an excellent debut novel, although as Grace has based some of the story (I am not sure exactly how much), on memories of her own feuding family, I guess that in this instance, the saying about writing about something you know being most successful, is born out completely.

      In some cases though, I think that trying to adapt personal experiences into a fiction story, could be more difficult to pull off, as perhaps you are just too close to the whole scenario? As you so rightly point out, this book therefore potentially lends itself well as a discussion piece for a book club.

      I definitely believe that our past experiences, especially those witnessed through the eyes of a child, can shape our future thoughts and behaviour and that to consciously break free from that cycle and change those thought patterns, can be so difficult. Although perhaps that is just the excuse we, as human beings, look for, to abdicate responsibility for our own negative actions and thoughts?

      Naida, those were such thoughtful and thought provoking comments, I can’t thank you enough for the time you took in formulating them and reading my rather lengthy review, I really do appreciate it.

    • I am the author of “Olive Branches Don’t Grow On Trees” and I just wanted to thank you for the compliment on my novel. I do hope that you get a chance to read this story as I truly believe you will enjoy the read:)

      Grace

    • Hi Tracy,

      A lot of things start to make sense to Silvia, when she listens to her Grandma Tucci, although her words of wisdom do little to ease the family tensions and feuding. In fact, it is because of her Grandma’s tacit silence and agreement to the wrongs which were heaped on her in her own marriage, that Frank and Donna find themselves in their current situation.

      Admitting that I am wrong, is often the most difficult thing to do, as I always feel that it makes me seem like a weak person and that I don’t have the courage of my convictions. Consequently, discussions seem to become battle grounds, where things are said which are certainly not meant and I generally end up by having to apologise as well as admitting I was wrong! Mind you, we are both Gemini’s, so is it any wonder that all four of us can’t agree very often!!

      ‘Olive Branches …’, is well worth adding to your reading list, IMHO and I shall soon be publishing a post about the sequel which Grace is currently working on, for release later in 2013.

      Thanks for stopping by, I always appreciate your comments and I hope that you have a good weekend.

    • Hi Nikki,

      Coming from someone for whom this book wouldn’t typically be from your genre of choice, I am really pleased to see you comment that it sounds quite an interesting premise for a storyline.

      I am not sure that I could be as open and honest about such a sensitive subject as family feuds and arguments, as Grace obviously is and for that, she has my respect. it would be all too easy to blame the hot Italian blood in her fictional family, for all their troubles, however I believe that the scenario of feuding families is not as uncommon as we think it is, the world over, although it would be nice to think that we all had a Grandma Tucci trying to broker peace from within!

      Thanks for taking the time to stop by and read my thoughts about the book, your comments are also always appreciated.

      Have a good weekend.

  • Such diversity among family members! Goes to show that no matter how you raise a child, he/she will grow to be their own unique person. I love books about family relationships, and this sounds very interesting!

    • Hi Vicki,

      This is a great study in family relationships and personalities and you make such a good point about everyone’s individual uniqueness, despite their childhood upbringing and influences.

      What makes a child from a perfectly ordinary and respectable family, turn to drink, drugs, or become an habitual offender, when their sibling who, brought up in exactly the same environment and with the same learned values, leads a valued and conventional lifestyle as a respected member of the community?

      Is there really a connection between our genetic make-up and our behaviour, even though a particular trait or idiosyncracy doesn’t necessarily show in the next generation, but may skip a generation or two?

      Thanks for the interesting points you made and for participating in the discussion.

      Have a good weekend.

    • Hi Linda,

      Grace is a genuine Italian New Yorker; open, forthright and friendly and working with her has been a genuine pleasure. I can also imagine that she doesn’t suffer fools gladly and having now read ‘Olive Branches ..’, I would be interested to know just how much of the story comes from her own personal experiences.

      Grace is, as I speak, quite well advanced in writing the sequel to ‘Olive Branches ..’, which charts the story of Cosmo, the eldest of the Greko sons. Once again I am curious to know why she has selected him to focus on and wonder if it is because both Cosmo and Silvie are the two middle siblings of the family and the two who seem to have to fight the hardest to get their voices heard …

      I do hope that you enjoy the book, if you decide to try it and sincerely hope that David is making small steps in the right direction, with each passing day.

Written by Yvonne

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