In 1961, when Luca Carcera is 11, his father takes him to see the site of their future home on “the Hill,” a new upscale suburb of Boston. For Luca’s social-climbing Uncle John, the Hill represents paradise, the family’s successful escape from the working class. But for Luca, the move will mark the shattering of his innocence. Luca’s father, Lou, is not terribly interested in outward appearances, which becomes clear when he leaves his wife and son for another man, Bob Painter, who works with the grounds crew at the plant where Lou is an accountant. Confused about the change in his family status, Luca is lost. But like many families of a few generations ago, no one knows how to deal with this (and other) earth-shattering events so it’s ignored. But as the years progress and Luca turns from a child into a man, history has a tendency to repeat itself, especially with his mother, who suddenly refuses her suitor’s marriage proposal that could better her life, or Uncle John’s son, and Luca’s cousin, George who returns from Vietnam a damaged man. As Luca ages and sort of sleepwalks through life, the past hangs over him like a anchor and must confront the reality that as his 12-year marriage seems to be falling apart because he’s still confused about who he is and what he should do about it.
In many ways, Recent History feels like an old fashion novel with its simple themes of ones families struggle with social and economic success while dealing with sexuality –both straight and (the more modern) gay. I found the book well written, if not a bit unrealistic (gays seemed everywhere, but since I grew up in the ‘burbs and not a large city like Boston, maybe my views are skewed here). While this a frank discussion of desire and the effects of dishonesty on a family, sometimes author Giardina seemed to want to create dramatic effect for no good reason other than to sway the reader into believing some revelation was about to happen. Otherwise, it’s a well written, deeply moving novel about one families inability to deal with reality.