Night Bloom: A Memoir

by Mary Cappello

Cappello, a professor of English at the University of Rhode Island, has a lovely way with images: the “night bloom” of the title is a Night-Blooming Cereus that after much care blossoms suddenly at night, a flower that occasioned spontaneous parties in the Cappello family. These beautiful images tend to pile up without cohering, however, and the material in this disjointed memoir is somewhat familiar, if elegantly composed. Cappello sometimes takes hold of a good idea and overdoes it: in a few paragraphs she ties together a cousin with a glass eye, her parents harping that a new toy “could knock your eye out,” her father’s insistence that she and her siblings always wear seat belts and the importance of the evil eye in Sicilian-American culture. Cappello quotes liberally from the diaries kept by her grandfather, John Petracca, which are sometimes touching with their descriptions of extreme poverty (“October 22, 1941. I am working and starving”) and sometimes very mundane (“October 1, 1941. Got out of bed early. Inspected my garden”). Some of his journals and other writings were in English and some were in Italian, and the fact that Cappello does not read Italian (because she is a “bona fide product of assimilation”) occasionally hampers full understanding. Ultimately, this isn’t a coherent whole but rather a grab bag of ideas, beautifully expressed.