Thursday, April 10, 2014

Ristorante Marcellino

18781355In a rundown restaurant on the Upper East Side four people find themselves in a ceaseless battle for survival in a seemingly unforgiving city. Evelyn, an immigrant from Romania, tries to establish control in the chaos of the place that has, since the start of the recession, fallen apart, and in her efforts to enforce her own rules, she further alienates herself from the rest of the staff. Ivana is another waitress at Marcellino, one of the few who aggressively resists Evelyn’s control and the new found power she has found following her employment. Frankie the bartender is different, as he evades Evelyn, having grown up in poverty in the South Bronx, experiencing all kinds of hardships. Then there’s Germano, the owner, who cunningly finds a way to trap his employees as they try to establish more promising lives for themselves. In the end the habits these four individuals have formed as a way to satiate their lust for money or power inevitably brings about their less than desirable fate.

*May Contain Spoilers*

Theresa Oles explores the life of servers in a New York City restaurant in her novel, Ristorante Marcellino. Focusing on four employees, all from different backgrounds, Oles tells a story of loss, poverty, unhappiness, and the consequence of actions. 

There are four main characters, each having their own section in the novel. Evelyn takes the beginning, introducing the restaurant as she ends her spell of unemployment by being hired as a waitress. After losing her job at a hotel, Evelyn struggled as a prostitute. She attempts to leave that life behind by earning a living at the restaurant. She's an angry character, with a history that inspires her ire. Readers will no doubt see her as one of the novel's villains. At first, Evelyn's struggle lays the foundation for a connection with readers, but when they witness how it's changed her into an aggressive bully the connection unravels before it solidifies. 

Ivana takes part two, picking up after Evelyn is hired and has begun her tyrant role. Ivana is an immigrant from Russia. She has an alcoholic boyfriend and doesn't shy away from standing up against those who try to keep her down. Ivana will be the character that readers connect with most. She isn't afraid to tell it like it is, working to survive the harsh world. Her struggle for money, escaping an attempted rape, and searching for true friends all will raise her status in the eyes of the reader even if she is made up of more flaws than most. 

Germano is the restaurant owner and the second villain in the novel. His only aspiration is to be as rich as possible. This involves scamming unsuspecting city dwellers with the promise of fortune and fame and stealing money from his employees at the restaurant. He's a mostly absent employer, using his role as owner to come and go as he pleases. When he is present, Germano spends his time listening carefully in order to use personal/situational information against his employees. He's a selfish liar who only cares about improving his own life with no regard for others. 

Frankie is the restaurant's loyal bartender, having been employed there for a decade. He's a quiet, rude man who is quick to retaliate. He was raised by his single mother who kicked him out after he finished high school. Instead of following his dream of attending NYU, he struggled to find shelter and food. Readers will sympathize with Frankie as he seems to have gotten the raw end of a deal he didn't make. Struggling with depression, Frankie barely lives, merely going through the motions. 

The plot of the novel follows the hiring of Evelyn through her "termination" of employment, depicting about a year of the restaurant's life. Readers see Evelyn becoming hungry for power, Ivana fighting back, Germano playing the sly, sleek, hated manager, and Frankie inching toward his boiling point. However, the story doesn't come across as the main focus of the novel. The focus lays on the four employees and their lives as citizens of New York City. With more background information presented than definitive plot, Ristorante Marcellino is a character study with a surprising ending. The novel is enjoyable, a little slow at times with a repetitive writing style, but a deep, thorough look into struggling for more in the city that never sleeps.

Rating: 2.5/5 Cups

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