As a born and bred Italian, I know the situation and I can tell you the struggle is real. I love this story.
Squealer by Christopher Calcara released in February in the Crime Thriller/LGBT genre.
With tongue-in-cheek and dark overtones, Squealer examines the life of an impressionable Midwestern Catholic Italian choirboy who grows into a mob-worthy assassin in order to avenge high school nemeses from his past.
As ‘Pete Casanova’ takes us on a journey through the heart-land, his early ethnic and religious experiences expose the motivations for his deadly actions. We come to realize why, for him, it’s never too late to seek revenge.
Squealer addresses topics of physical, mental, emotional, and sexual abuse inflicted on students by their teachers and religious authorities. It deals with the difficult subjects of homophobia, prejudice and bullying, but with wit … and suspense!
I arrived through a special entrance for visitors so as not to rub elbows with the “general population.” I wasn’t there for them anyway; I was there for Sal.
There was a crowd of us, mostly wives and girlfriends; a few court-appointed attorneys I’m guessing, by the way they were dressed in ill-fitting suits, wrinkled shirts and ugly ties. We dismissed Sal’s lawyer after the trial; there was no request for a costly appeal. He admitted what he’d done, pled guilty, accepted the verdict.
As for me, I was no longer uneasy there; I became accustomed to the pen. It was like visiting someone in the hospital. (Could jail have been where Sam and Rose went when they told us kids they were going to see someone in the hospital?) After a while, you get used to the sounds and smells, the mangled patients, the uncomfortable silences.
On the surface of the glass, when I focused, I could see the reflection of my own face but I saw Sal’s too. If his head was in just the right position, our faces superimposed each other and we became the same person, but distorted.
Sal turned away, toward the guard examining the room and its civilian occupants on the free side of the pane, and he said low, “So, you ever see Pennisi?” Once thick as thieves, Sal was there and Leonard wasn’t.
“I hear he’s still connected,” I told him. “Doesn’t he visit?” I asked, facetiously.
“He don’t come within a hundred miles of this place.” Sal slouched in the government-issued plastic chair. It screeched. The guard stared at us, lips curling, nostrils flaring. “Afraid they might nab him. Stronzo.”
I couldn’t tell who he was calling asshole—Leonard or the guard. Sal didn’t mind getting his hands dirty and protected Leonard when they worked the streets together. Other than your enemies, that’s the only kind of person you wanted close to you—someone who had your back. Like Nickie’s and mine, Sal fought Leonard’s battles.
AUTHOR Bio and Links:
After earning a degree in Journalism from the University of Missouri School of Journalism, Calcara created marketing campaigns for businesses and institutions featured in print and broadcast media.
He writes fiction and semi-fiction, short stories, memoirs, plays, novels, and screenplays. He has collaborated with composers to write plays with musical scores. Joan is one such musical play that lyrically exposes the soul of Jeanne d’Arc—Joan of Arc.
Calcara was the only Charleston writer to win the 2011 South Carolina Arts Commission Fiction Project. His short stories have been published by numerous literary journals. He has lived in the South, Southwest and Southeast, and currently writes from the Midwest.
Luca’s Character Arc
Many of the characters in SQUEALER go through transformative arcs, but the most apparent and recurrent are protagonist Luca’s.
Beginning with his repressive Italian background, child Luca attends a Catholic elementary school and is immediately indoctrinated into its religious traditions and rituals. Without choice, he is baptized and confirmed, trains to become an altar boy, then a choirboy. He has strong attachments to his family, particularly the ancestors—his grandparents on both maternal and paternal sides—with whom he has closer relationships than with his own parents (especially his father), and with whom he can more comfortably be himself.
Before leaving grade school, where he is popular, Luca has learned about prejudice through his ethnic culture’s and his father’s racism and homophobia, but has yet to experience either firsthand. He has discovered what masturbation is, but has not had any mutual sexual experiences beyond kissing girls in the neighborhood where he was raised among other Catholic Italian families, many with six children. With only two older siblings—sister Nickie and brother Sal—Luca feels on his own and ‘less than’ in Sal’s imposing shadow. By the time he enters high school, he hasn’t a clear sense of who he is, let alone his true orientation.
At St. Ignatius High School, Luca’s unmistakable transformation begins when he is bullied by a gang of classmates; especially by fellow Italian Leonard, who is also a nefarious friend of Sal’s and a one-time unsavory boyfriend of Nickie’s. Adding to the bad peer behaviors are the multiple mistreatments—including mental, emotional, physical, and in due course, sexual abuse—perpetrated by the seemingly sadistic, pedophilic religious faculty. Feeling particularly betrayed by one of his own, Luca retreats into himself, but does manage to survive the bullying slings and arrows while maintaining steady relationships with virtuous girlfriends. It’s not until his senior year that his personality undergoes another alteration as he involves himself with extracurricular activities and achieves a small measure of confidence and academic success.
By college, Luca’s eager to spread his wings. Musing on innocent adolescent quasi-sexual experiences, he begins to seriously question his preferences. He leaves his insular family and friends to attend university in a distant town, where he more closely approximates the person he’ll become, as another man’s plaything, if not lover. At the same time, he experiments with heterosexuality, believing he’s fallen in love with a woman who he meets on weekend trips home. He conducts affairs with both concurrently, leaving him at turns feeling the exhilaration of having the best of both worlds, and being utterly confused.
As an adult, decades after high school graduation, Luca chances upon the Wanted poster of his St. Ignatius nemesis turned soldier-killer at the same time their 30th reunion is about to take place. Assuming a bogus identity to avoid discovery, Luca slowly transfigures into a heat-seeking revenge missile, using the reunion as bait. This is where the non-linear novel begins, with Luca setting events in motion to find and punish Leonard for his sins against Luca’s family, as well as the dead soldier. Luca’s past, along with his various transfigurations, are revealed in flashbacks while his present as master manipulator occurs.
Without giving away the surprise twist that another character plays into Luca’s scheme, he does ultimately exact revenge upon Leonard, and in a manner that avoids his own guilt and retribution. In the final analysis, however, Luca recognizes that over the many years of his avoidance of people like Leonard, he hasn’t really grown to the point that he’s able to actually face his old tormentors. And it is precisely this realization that makes it possible for him to take his elaborate plot to its satisfactory conclusion while simultaneously confirming his own worth, so long diminished, if not by his detractors, then by the workings of his own mind.
YouTube Channel https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCNAGN_S_-Vr2s0JIn5nlYWw
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