Sunday, June 22, 2008

Book Review: The Godfather, by Mario Puzo

Copyright © 2008, Steven E. Houchin
( Originally written 1 June 2008 )

Cover of The GodfatherCritiques of my first book, Linear Descent, revealed that dialog among my Mafia characters needed some additional color. So, I bought a ratty, old paperback copy of The Godfather (possibly an original 1969 edition) at Half Price Books. After reading it, I had a few thoughts about its construction as a novel.

First, the main characters are superbly developed. Their Sicilian ethnicity pervades their psyche. Each character has his/her distinct personality, fears, problems, lusts, faults, and desires. They are believable. Unlike most books that have a clear main character, The Godfather is a conglomeration of characters and subplots whose lives are affected by their relationship to the Godfather, Don Corleone. A whole chapter may focus on some aspect of one character's life, then the next will switch to another character. But always the story is moved forward.

Second, the book has a definite turning point in the middle: Don Corleone is gunned down in the street. Though he survives, his life, and the future course of his organization, are irreversibly changed. There's no going back to "business as usual" for The Family. The organization careens into a tragic mob war, and must compromise -- temporarily -- to survive.

Third, the author completely ignores the rules on point of view. You, the reader, are in everybody's head within each chapter and scene, even changing from paragraph to paragraph. It takes a bit of getting used to, but Puzo seems to make it work. I've recently discovered that this isn't all that unusual in books of this genre. So, clearly, POV violations aren't absolutely fatal for publication, or even success.

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