Monday, May 21, 2012

The Sleepy Hollow Family Almanac by Kris D'Agostino

"What I really to know how it feels to be passionate about something" (p. 237).

     Calvin Moretti is in something of a rut.  He's only 24, so he's too young to experience a mid-life crisis, but he could use some direction in life.  He's bored with his job teaching at a preschool for autistic children, his social life is blurred by a haze of pot smoke, and his family life isn't looking so good, either.  Calvin's father is recovering from cancer but still convinced he could die at any moment, so he roams the house like a ghost in a bathrobe, watching reruns of Law and Order and building his gun collection.  His brother, Chip, is financially successful, but comes across as a clueless idiot, and his baby sister has just announced that she's pregnant.  On top of that, Calvin's mother says that, with medical bills piling up and Mr. Moretti unable to return to work, the family is at serious risk of losing their home.  As Calvin struggles to help his family get back on their feet (even though he is equally unstable), the Moretti family takes more and more hits financially and emotions run high.

     Calvin and his family are often hilariously dysfunctional, with only a thin line separating them from tragically doomed.  It always seems like they take one step forward then two steps back, but the Moretti's are not willing to give up so easily.  The Sleepy Hollow Family Almanac more closely chronicles Calvin's personal seeking of purpose and meaning, but he soon realizes that he is not alone.  The entire Moretti family seems to be adrift in a very large and very dangerous ocean with only each other to turn to for comfort and support - which would be fine if the ability to provide comfort and support came naturally to any of them.

     Kris D'Agostino's debut novel reminds us that families can experience growing pains long after the children become adults - the ties that bind us to family can be strong and magnetic, especially for Calvin.  In the midst of tragedy, fear, and the unknown, hope is difficult to maintain, but it can be a much-needed key to survival.  Calvin may not be a great literary hero, but his journey is both hilarious and heartbreaking, which often resembles the dichotomy of everyday family situations.  No one's family is perfect, but the Moretti's are just trying to stay afloat, and this novel lets us peer into their strange yet familiar dysfunction as they attempt the overwhelming task of daily life.

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