Friday, November 11, 2011

Charlie Stella's Charlie Opera

I'm a new Charlie Stella fan because the mobsters, cops, waitresses, and other Las Vegas and New York hangers-on in his 2003 novel Charlie Opera can be funny without making light of the violent circumstances in which they find themselves.

Here's the title character after his wife throws a hairbrush at him for singing opera in their hotel room:
“`What the fuck?'

 “`I’ve been calling to you for five minutes!' Lisa Pellecchia yelled. `From the shower. In the bathroom. Five minutes!'

“`I was listening to something,' Charlie said. He was still trying to reach the painful spot on his back. `That hurt, damn it.'
...
“He flexed both his biceps in the mirror and quickly dropped his arms when he heard his wife in the bathroom. When he thought he was safe again, he looked into the mirror and whispered, `Figaro, Figaro... Figaro, Figaro, Figaro, Figaro, Figaro, Fi-ga-ro.'”

That's marvelous, but Stella turns down the jokes when Charlie gets into deep trouble later in the book, and he paces the storytelling so nicely that I was barely conscious of the change in tone as it was happening.

Stella has characters say outlandish things without ever seeming to be aware of their own outlandishness, which adds to the fun. He also manages to tell a story of operatic complexity without ever losing the thread,  alternating points of view in short chapters, the shifting viewpoints something like, I don't know, a series of arias.

Charlie surveys the Strip's tall buildings with respectful professional interest (he had previously run a window-washing company), and he acts heroically at unexpected times and calmly when many another protagonist might have gone nuts, thrown punches, or pulled guns. Charlie is one of the most endearing regular-guy protagonists who ever socked a mobster and wandered into the middle of gang strife and law-enforcement rivalries.

But he's Charlie Opera, after all, so the people who wind up dead in this book generally deserve it, a woman is rescued, and true love is rewarded, in the best opera buffa fashion.

(I'm not a brand-new Stella fan. His story "The Decider" is one of the highlights of Crime Factory: The First Shift, discussed in this space last week. But I'm telling you: In a couple of weeks I'll be talking about Charlie Stella as if I'd been reading him my whole life.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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6 Comments:

Blogger Charlieopera said...

Very kind, brother. Grazie.

November 11, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Prego, signore.

November 11, 2011  
Blogger Sean Patrick Reardon said...

I am going to start going on CS journey very soon, Thinking I'm going to start with Johnny Porno. From all I have gathered, CS writes the exact type of stories I love to read!

November 12, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

From what I've read of your writing, I think you're right; Stella might be right up your alley. I'm reading Eddie's World now, and I have Jimmy Bench-Press lined up.

One thing I'll ask Charlie Stella if I meet him: Did his mother make him write opera reports when he was a child, the way Eddie's mother did in Eddie's World?

November 12, 2011  
Blogger Charlieopera said...

No, sir. That was what I used to do to my brats--ah, I mean kids. They had to read a libretto, then either summarize it or write their own. That was their usual punishments when they did something worthy of punishment. The best was my older son (Charles, not Charlie, he insists) was caught with a friend clipping candy bars from a Pathmark. I made him wait it out (middle of the week to the weekend), then sat across from Saturday morning (I wasn't living with them) and I said (with my best mean street guy face): "How many times you get away with it?" The kid didn't know what to say, eventually came up with "Six." I almost blew it and laughed, but held him to writing a short story about the experience. He called it "My First Pinch" and drew a cover with a martini glass and blurbs he made up (he was probably 10 or so). I still have the report.

November 13, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

An incident that found its way into Eddie's World! It's a brilliant strategy for exposing a child to art, especially since kids these days can no longer rely on Warner Brothers cartoons to expose them to great music, the way previous generations did.

I'm envious of any 10-year-old who can come up with a title like "My First Pinch." I only stole one chocolate bar in my life, and I never got caught. I don't plan on stealing any more. At my age, I'm too set in my ways to go inside.

November 13, 2011  

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