This is not a sentimental world. Crime occurs on a daily–or rather, a second to second–basis. Some of these crimes are committed by individuals with no conscience or ability to comprehend (or care) about the consequences of their actions. Others, however (and some of the most horrific), are carried out by loving fathers, family men, church members, and little league coaches. In Dr. Joe Ferry’s novel entitled Connected: Mob Stories From My Past we are shown a bizarre, and at the same time a surprisingly comical, subculture of American society: it is the world of ‘the mafia,’ a secret network of bosses, hit men, and godfathers with one foot in the old world and one hand in – well, nearly every aspect of American life.
The narrator begins his story by telling us a little about his hero: his hard-working father who taught him how to be a man in the world. Then juxtaposed against a few reflective thoughts regarding his early family life, we are told that his father was a mob Don who killed anyone who crossed him. For a normal boy the apparent contradiction between a life of crime and a comfortable middle class existence would perhaps be enough to baffle the mind; or stunt a young man’s moral and spiritual growth. Fortunately our narrator was never ‘a normal boy’ – but a highly intelligent individual with the capacity to integrate his experiences as a mob Don’s son into his life as a student, an athlete, a musician, a record producer, a college professor, and a loving husband.
In Ferry’s portrait of an artist as a young mobster, we are given insights into the interworking of an organization “connected” to the larger New York mafia. Yet more significantly, we are taken on a journey into the psychologically complex personality of the narrator himself. Our ability to come to terms with the underground world in which he grew up rests upon understanding the internal dialogue–and the demons–that constitute our narrator’s consciousness.
“My mom always said that I was Trouble, almost from birth. The nickname took. So that’s what you can call me. For as long as I can remember, the two things I enjoyed doing most were walking and stealing.” This simple statement whereby our narrator introduces himself to the reader goes a long way in summarizing his personality. On one hand, Trouble was a product of his environment; the son of one of New York’s most ruthless mobsters (and a man with a mean streak). Yet at the same time, from an early age Trouble exhibited a sensitive, contemplative side. And as a young “mobster in training,” learning the ins and outs of mob-life from the best in the business, he also developed an interest in–and a real talent for–music. So when one saw Trouble Ventura walking the streets of New York City, it was difficult to tell whether he was taking a walk to ‘clear his mind,’ or heading towards his next ‘music gig,’ or on his way to ‘shake a guy down.’
One day Trouble’s father gave his son this wise advice: “We are suited to our callings, boy. Make no excuses for yourself. We are complex creatures. We are shadows of light. Good and bad.” With these words the seeming contradiction between “the world of organized crime” and a life committed to art, family, and community is laid to rest. For as the narrator’s father rightly remarks, this world–and human nature–is far too complex and variegated to reduce (experiences or people) into simplistic categories: such as ‘good’ and ‘evil.’
Ostensibly a novel chronicling Trouble’s formative years as a young mobster, the narrative is peppered with pearls of wisdom and comical anecdotes drawn from daily life. For example, in a chapter entitled “Girls Who Puked On Me” the narrator confesses that a surprising number of his most romantic relationships–and moments–have been ruined by spontaneous bouts of vomiting: as otherwise lovely women hurled their ‘lunch’ all over him (and his hopes of ‘getting lucky’). In another chapter we encounter an eccentric elderly lady named Minnie Chestnut; who presents the author with authentic photographs and historic artifacts proving that she met Abraham Lincoln, dined with President John F. Kennedy, and spent intimate moments with Amelia Earhart and the great jazz legend Charlie Parker. Then in another chapter we are introduced to a history professor who possesses–‘believe it or not’–the first LP in the history of the human race: a vintage clay pot (which has embedded in its decorative grooves a recording) from the eighteenth century; upon which our narrator and several music professors hear the voice and piano playing of one Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
The brilliance and beauty of these vignettes brings to light the real strength of the novel: since the stories Ferry tells are at times so outlandish, and yet written with the accuracy (or attention to detail) of a skilled biographer, the reader simply doesn’t know what part of the novel is fantasy, and which part is historical fact. Aside from learning a great deal about his father’s business, his time spent associating with colorful storytellers–i.e., mobsters–also taught our author how to spin a ‘good yarn.’ From the prologue to the final chapter, Connected: Mob Stories From My Past entertains and educates; simultaneously evoking horror and laughter in the reader. I highly recommend this book to anyone who appreciates (and perhaps can stomach) the slapstick memoirs of an accomplished musician and mobster.