From the back cover: “After reading this collection, you will come to know these characters and the author intimately. Not that you’d necessarily want to, it’s just the way things will turn out.”
Lunatic Heroes is a collection of fifteen darkly humourous stories from the life of C. Anthony Marignetti, a Massachusetts psychotherapist, and friend of singer Amanda Palmer, and her husband, writer Neil Gaiman. Palmer encouraged Martignetti to put the book together, and ultimately wrote the introduction, in which she recounts the story of their peculiar friendship. The stories are arranged in chronological order and occasionally overlap, but each story is written so that it could be read as a standalone. Most of the stories focus on his childhood in a dysfunctional Italian-Catholic family in an Irish-Catholic city in the 1950s and 60s, and the final three tales come from his adulthood, largely passing over the teenage years.
Martignetti’s tales feel restless on the page, leaving you with the sense that these stories are meant to be told aloud, with the written word serving merely as a place holder. As to the content of the stories, Martignetti serves up heaping portions of Catholic guilt with a side of psychoanalysis. He is colloquial, frequently repeating words or phrases, and using sentence fragments in a way that seems natural in conversation but slightly awkward on the page, and occasionally this style rings totally false. In “Bully,” Martignetti writes that “the giant was called Stossel. (I don’t know if that was his last name, or if he was called that because it sounded big, like ‘Collosal.’).” Two chapters later, he refers to him as “Danny Ray Stossel,” making it abundantly clear that the first description is an affectation, detracting from the otherwise grimly honest tone of the book.
Although the blurb on the back of the book claims that we “will come to know these characters and the author intimately,” Lunatic Heroes feels very much as if it was written for people who already know Martignetti in real life, and are familiar with his personality and sense of humour. I was moved by a number of the pieces, but left cold by others, feelings as if I was missing out on crucial information, or that I didn’t share an assumed attitude towards life. At other times, he glossed over details likely to be interesting to a wider audience. For instance, Martignetti mentions in “Slap” that he met John F. Kennedy at his school. It is a passing, parenthetical reference, but one that is likely to pique the interest of most readers. However, the story of this meeting is never recounted, even though there is another story titled “President Kennedy’s Party.” Perhaps the encounter simply wasn’t funny or interesting, but it also hints that Martignetti is playing to an audience close to home.
Nevertheless, there are a number of strong entries in this collection that will be relatable for a wider audience. Short, sweet, and not particularly humourous, “Harvard Square” will touch something in geeks and book-lovers, as Martignetti recounts his discovery of The Coop, a third place for people just like him, at a time in his life when he decidedly was not fitting in. And, if you’re a people-watcher, the final entry, “Hate” will show you your reflection, and remind you not to judge others too harshly as you pursue your sport.
Looking for a darkly humourous memoir? I recommend Don’t Get Too Comfortable by David Rakoff.