Angelo Patri‚Äôs Pinocchio in America leaves good old Gepetto and the supplementary cast (Candlewick, Fire Eater, those ubiquitous knaves, the Fox and the Cat) to share their fabulous past. Pinocchio (with no mention, as I recall, of his wooden origin) bobs up in New York harbor, c. 1925, where an Irish barge captain feeds him corned beef and cabbage. Shortly thereafter, two Italian-American youngsters temporarily adopt him: Tony and Camilla, who invite him to a spaghetti dinner. ‚ÄúHe is our guest ‚ÄĒ let‚Äôs not notice his mistakes, ‚ÄĚ advises the good woman.
With that unfolds a saga of immigrant boyhood in the U. S. A. The didactic, finger-wagging tendencies of¬† Carlo Collodi’s original (in which he instructs, gently, his¬† “little readers‚ÄĚ), is muted. In Patri‚Äôs version, there occurs one terrifying attack of self-perception: Pinocchio has tumbled into an abandoned well. But even such distressing perceptions are neutralized by Patri‚Äôs humor, and sweet equanimity. A warm familiarity and non-didactic charm en¬≠rich Patri‚Äôs fioretti. One episode has Pinocchio swiping, and eating, a pie, left out to cool by a neighbor lady of redoubtable, flinty reputation. Pin finally confesses ‚ÄĒ only to be told that the pie was baked for him. A formidable local legend, handled with kindly iconoclasm. Pin‚Äôs installation amid regional Americana is crowned when he acquires a puppy dog named Patsy. The pooch‚Äôs description radiates Angelo Patri‚Äôs kindly sensuous humanism.
Patri‚Äôs little volume breathes a kindly worldliness that actually enlarges upon Collodi‚Äôs florid melodramatics and earthy vigor. And does honor to his name; restoring (for older readers) and augmenting (for all readers) a wonderful legend‚Äôs sensuous hardihood, and robust fun. In so doing, it recalls to us the old story‚Äôs plaited texture: a didactic fable, interwoven with high-paced regional color (the clamorous puppet theater, where the puppet repertory rally to hail Pinocchio, their liberated hero). The story‚Äôs rambunctious opening culminates in a dead-serious wrestling match between Gepetto, Pinocchio‚Äôs foster father, and Master Cherry, his discoverer. The long-running fable/adventure yarn/didactic allegory bulges (as Guy Davenport, for one, has pointed out) with invocations of classic texts: Ovid‚Äôs Metamorphoses; the Book of Jonah; primitive legends of the Madonna. All roll before our perception, with no breath of didactic exhibitionism, or jarring eclecticism: a fragrantly blooming cherry tree of hardy life, and wanderer‚Äôs wisdom. Add: Angelo Patri‚Äôs mellow, smiling memorandum. Of especial sly charm: Pinocchio‚Äôs introduction to American schools He is uncertain whether a ¬†‚ÄĚvaccination‚ÄĚ is an exotic animal or a fruit. Once in the classroom, he is introduced to the Watchful Rooster, a fussy and feathery old bird who, however, can be pleased when Pinocchio deploys the magic Pencil: a fairy gift, responding to deep concentration and vigorous mind play. ¬†This is Angelo Patri‚Äôs loving nod to his early years.
One final appreciative note: The mellowly aged edition with which I grew up (never supplanted by Disney‚Äôs cartoon cosmetics) has been re -invoked, rather than supplanted, in Patri‚Äôs book: vivacious woodcut chapter headings (usually, with comradely mockery, illustrating the quotes from the text); Pinocchio‚Äôs tutor and monitor¬† (nicknamed ¬†‚ÄúThe Watchful Rooster‚Äô) is a bodacious Big Bird, indeed; ‚ÄúAn Ape is an Ape‚ÄĚ [from an Italian proverb?) depicts an impish (and chimpish) Follow the Leader (a strutting Pinocchio). A warm, richly whimsical, supplement to an epic for numerous ages.