Excerpt with permission from article written by: Russ Tarby, Eagle Newspapers (4/1/08)
Rita Schiano’s dad…was shot to death in December 1976. Dripping blood from six bullet holes, his body was found on a rural road just north of the Onondaga County line. He was 55.
Rita, then 21, was attending…college... She knew that her dad, a North Side produce dealer and professional gambler, had enemies. But that didn’t make his violent death any less horrific.
Fast forward to the 1980s: Rita’s cousin…marrie(s) prominent local defense attorney…,the lawyer who had [successfully] represented [the] accused killer.
That familial friction became one of the many sub-plots of Rita’s new novel, Painting the Invisible Man, based on her father’s death.
Boasting a conversational prose style spiced with 1970s’ allusions (Jethro Tull, Muhammad Ali, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.), Schiano’s story flows smoothly even as she swings rhythmically from present-day action to flashback. The use of italics to denote either flashbacks or inner thought is especially effective in keeping readers on track.
While the gangland rub-out drives the book, it’s less a mystery and more a coming-of-age story, Rita’s own. She’s represented here as the novel’s narrator, Anna Matteo. We get to know the youthful Anna, a wiseacre who talks back to her teachers, carries a pellet gun in a shoulder holster under her school jacket and reads books like Compulsion. And we get to know the 21st century Anna who, due to a computer-era twist of fate, finds herself reliving the whys and wherefores of her dad’s untimely death two decades past.
Along the way, Anna recalls her relationships with her family members and even her father’s mistress. She struggles with her cousin’s decision to wed the attorney who, in essence, got her dad’s killer off the hook. She goes undercover to meet with a mobster who may have pushed the button on her father. She falls in love with a research librarian.
Yes, there’s a touch of romance in Painting the Invisible Man, and -- despite its dark premise -- more than a hint of humor. Upon first meeting that attractive librarian, for instance, Anna quotes Groucho Marx: “Anything further, father? That can’t be right. Isn’t it anything farther further?” And the librarian recognizes the line from Horsefeathers, hinting to Anna that she has found a soul mate….
….While the author focuses on her father’s murder, the novel’s strongest character besides Anna herself is Anna’s mother, Theresa….a fully-realized, even flawed, character, a charming music teacher by day prone to jealous ravings at night.
Some of the book’s most harrowing scenes are those in which Anna and her…ma stake out the residence of her father’s girlfriend. Some of the novel’s most satisfying scenes involve food, notably the Christmas Eve seafood feasts served annually by her mother. Later, an intimate restaurant dinner of osso buca, braised veal shanks accompanied by Chianti Classico-Riserva, crystallizes a budding relationship.
Not only are the leading roles well defined, but the novel’s minor characters are also finely drawn. There’s grade-school pantywaist Peter Veneziano. There’s Father Ricciardi, a self-righteous cleric who insists that Anna’s father repent his evil ways. There’s pastry shop owner Gino Palermo, Sister Mary Bridget who scolds with a brogue, the suave gangster Joey Casella and Anna’s best friend, Lisa Paradides, who harbors some secrets about her own mom and dad.