Win­nipeg nar­ra­tive a twisted vine as mag­i­cal wine re­leases in­hi­bi­tions

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS - Re­viewed by Ron Robin­son

IT takes some skill to dis­til an en­tire fam­ily saga down to 117 pages. Ahh, but wine comes from fer­men­ta­tion, and one spe­cial wine (and vine) snakes its way through Win­nipeg free­lance writer and poet Carmelo Mil­i­tano’s novella. This par­tic­u­lar wine has a power to re­lease de­sires and change lives, a new take on the old proverb “God says you may have what you want, but you must pay for it.” Michael, Licia and Hughie grow up in Win­nipeg in the 1960s, a Win­nipeg that any long-term res­i­dent over 50 will rec­og­nize. The three teens are in­volved in what the au­thor sug­gests is “the eter­nal tri­an­gle of youth­ful re­bel­lion, de­sire and cu­rios­ity.” The par­ents of Michael, the nar­ra­tor, and Licia have come from Italy, bring­ing with them feel­ings of loss and dam­age from the Sec­ond World War. Their chil­dren are a gen­er­a­tion whose lives must in­clude that past as well as the pre­sent. But what Michael wants is summed up by his thought: “The world was a big place and I wanted to be free and live my life the way I saw fit. I had no idea how the past could live in the pre­sent, and that one’s de­sire to es­cape from fam­ily to any­where and ex­pe­ri­ence ev­ery­thing solved noth­ing.” The book opens with a clear state­ment that the nar­ra­tor is de­lib­er­ately turn­ing away from any prairie writ­ing of mit­tens and re­strained emo­tions as well as any British tweed­i­ness or post­mod­ern de­nial of mean­ing. The novella moves back and forth through time, with the dis­tant past seen through the eyes of pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions scrab­bling to sur­vive in Italy. The piv­otal mo­ment in these pas­sages is Se­bas­tiano’s dis­cov­ery of a vine and grape of great power. As the ex­pres­sion goes, you can’t put the genie back in the bot­tle. Such is the case when the vine pro­duces a “wild grape found at the bot­tom of a wide ravine.” Mil­i­tano de­scribes the wine’s ef­fects as un­pre­dictable. “It in­spired some men to feel sen­ti­men­tal and full of broth­erly love, want­ing to em­brace fam­ily and friends. Oth­ers felt the urge to make pas­sion­ate love to the first woman they saw in a bar or on the street.” And there are other dis­turb­ing re­sults from its con­sump­tion. The two quo­ta­tions that pref­ace the novella sum up Mil­i­tano’s aim and the re­sult­ing vin­tage. The first quotes movie direc­tor Fed­erico Fellini with, “There is no end. There is no be­gin­ning. There is only the in­fi­nite pas­sion of life.” The sec­ond, from Charles Simic, says, “We are frag­ments of an un­ut­ter­able whole.” Open­ing with short, teas­ing frag­ments of bi­og­ra­phy, Mil­i­tano prefers to jump back and forth in time rather than draw a straight chrono­log­i­cal line, but then, there are no straight lines to be found in na­ture. That doesn’t make Se­bas­tiano’s Vine ex­per­i­men­tal or an an­gry at­tack on rec­og­niz­able styles, but it does mean that with so many sto­ry­lines and enough time jumps to make Doc­tor Who feel at home, it’s worth a sec­ond read.

Se­bas­tiano’s Vine

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