Growing up as a teenager in a big city is hard for the youth of any generation, but being an immigrant from Italy growing up on the mean streets of New York City in the 1960s was a bigger challenge than most. In Goodbye, Rudy Kazoody, author A.A. Freda gives us a picture of his own life as an immigrant in the Bronx from that historic time period. This semi-autobiographical tale is strikingly heartfelt and has the ring of deep truth, which makes it difficult to put down.
Joey is an innocent kid trying to make his way in the tough world of the Bronx, and while many of his companions are also immigrants newly arrived to the Big Apple, he gravitates to Spike, his cousin, who seems to be everything that Joey admires. There is a brotherly relationship between the boys, and a believable through-line of a plot that outlines many of the heartaches of youth. The unrequited love of an older woman, the confusing bonds of brotherhood and family, and the moral fiber that begins to form and strengthen in our earliest years – all of this and so much more is explored in the pages of Freda’s novel. There are moments of prose so pure and honest that it can almost be mistaken for poetry.
Freda keeps the action moving, and like the childish heroes of this tale, readers are forced to race around and chase the endlessly winding plot. Some of the more personal, intimate and sexual scenes are not portrayed voyeuristically, but rather academically, depicted with the curiosity of a child. The portrait of the Bronx that the author paints is not so much based in the time period, but in our imagined caricatures of certain neighborhoods and individuals.
Writers like Freda, who are able to capture their own experiences honestly, and with such devastating simplicity, have talent that should be spent on nothing but writing. The accuracy of the dialogue is excellent, and a pleasure to read at a rapid clip. It can be difficult to capture the essence of youthful speech, but Freda does it well, as though he can still hear many of those conversations bouncing around in his memory.
While there are some technical issues in the writing, a solid final editing sweep and some minor corrections would raise this book from very good to great. The plot is also tragic in its own right, which shows the emotional range of the characters and allows Freda to flex his literary muscles a bit. All in all, this is a coming of age story without a particularly happy resolution. If readers push deeper into the story, there are serious ruminations on death, love, innocence and growing up. But despite the often dark tones, the book finds moments of joy, and even a few spots that will make you laugh out loud. Freda has a delicate hand and a wonderful eye for the past, making this an exceptionally memorable read for people of all ages.