It takes some skill to distil an entire family saga down to 117 pages. Ahh, but wine comes from fermentation, and one special wine (and vine) snakes its way through Winnipeg freelance writer and poet Carmelo Militano's novella.
This particular wine has a power to release desires and change lives, a new take on the old proverb "God says you may have what you want, but you must pay for it."
Michael, Licia and Hughie grow up in Winnipeg in the 1960s, a Winnipeg that any long-term resident over 50 will recognize. The three teens are involved in what the author suggests is "the eternal triangle of youthful rebellion, desire and curiosity."
The parents of Michael, the narrator, and Licia have come from Italy, bringing with them feelings of loss and damage from the Second World War. Their children are a generation whose lives must include that past as well as the present.
But what Michael wants is summed up by his thought: "The world was a big place and I wanted to be free and live my life the way I saw fit. I had no idea how the past could live in the present, and that one's desire to escape from family to anywhere and experience everything solved nothing."
The book opens with a clear statement that the narrator is deliberately turning away from any prairie writing of mittens and restrained emotions as well as any British tweediness or postmodern denial of meaning.
The novella moves back and forth through time, with the distant past seen through the eyes of previous generations scrabbling to survive in Italy. The pivotal moment in these passages is Sebastiano's discovery of a vine and grape of great power.
As the expression goes, you can't put the genie back in the bottle. Such is the case when the vine produces a "wild grape found at the bottom of a wide ravine."
Militano describes the wine's effects as unpredictable. "It inspired some men to feel sentimental and full of brotherly love, wanting to embrace family and friends. Others felt the urge to make passionate love to the first woman they saw in a bar or on the street." And there are other disturbing results from its consumption.
The two quotations that preface the novella sum up Militano's aim and the resulting vintage. The first quotes movie director Federico Fellini with, "There is no end. There is no beginning. There is only the infinite passion of life." The second, from Charles Simic, says, "We are fragments of an unutterable whole."
Opening with short, teasing fragments of biography, Militano prefers to jump back and forth in time rather than draw a straight chronological line, but then, there are no straight lines to be found in nature.
That doesn't make Sebastiano's Vine experimental or an angry attack on recognizable styles, but it does mean that with so many storylines and enough time jumps to make Doctor Who feel at home, it's worth a second read.
Ron Robinson believes in vino veritas, but being Canadian, believes it should be in moderation.