Monday, March 30, 2009

Alligator Bayou by Donna Jo Napoli

Loosely based on a true story, and developed as an
exposition on cultural tensions in the nineteenth century,
Alligator Bayou traces the journey of a fourteen year old
Sicilian migrant who is thrust into a milieu hostile to his
very existence. The story revolves around Calogero, the
fourteen year old migrant, and the experiences and
occurrences in the racially-charged town of Tallulah,
Louisiana. During the course of the novel, Calogero attempts
to gain new friends, expire racial and cultural boundaries,
secure his budding love with an African-American girl, and
gradually ease into his transposed town. However, despite
these peaceful pastimes, he is also held beholden to the
violence present in Southern towns toward those of varying
heritage. This violence is visible almost immediately after
the exposition, and dramatically conducts the occurrences of
the preponderance of the novel. In the conclusion of the
novel, Calogero is forced to concede the town he has come to
love in spite of its flaws, and seek a destiny discrete.

It is clear from Donna Jo Napoli's prose and style in
Alligator Bayou that she intended to compose a counterpart
or sibling to To Kill a Mockingbird, or even Uncle Tom's
Cabin, in terms of illuminating racial conflicts typically
ignored in the face of larger calamities. All three novels
hold a surprisingly satisfying plot, richly detailed
characters, and a vividly created medium of venue through
which they are transmitted. It is also clear from Alligator
Bayou that Napoli invested a large sum of time in
painstakingly recreating and archiving the cultural syntax
of Sicilians in America. The novel proves both historically
accurate and emotionally subversive. The plot is compiled of
a multiplicity of domains, ranging from romance and drama to
action, allowing access and enjoyment to fans of all genres.
However, as with all novels, Alligator Bayou retains a
number of blemishes which mark the otherwise vibrant taste.
Although slower early on, the novel increases in pace
dramatically toward the end, creating what some readers
might find an uncomfortable channel which prevents the
attainment of full achievement. Although it is possible this
change in pace was intentional, it still serves as a
detraction from the overall gridiron of the story. Likewise,
certain elements of the novel feel half-baked and clunky
toward the end, as if they offer only superfluous enjoyment
and serve no genuine objective in the storyline. Again,
while this may be intentional to result in a more acute
finale and to sharpen the key themes of the novel, it serves
to disenchant the reader. However, while the novel does
preserve some weakness, it offers overall a wholly
gratifying experience for those willing to ignore the grain
and chuff in search of the diamonds at its

Violence, references to lynching may be
inappropriate for younger readers, but overall not a major

Reviewer Age:15

Reviewer City, State and
Country: Shrewsbury, MA USA