The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna

Ecco: HarperCollins. May 2019. 464p. ISBN 9780062862822. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062862846. F
DEBUT Born three years after the first Mariastella Fortuna, whose death in 1919 at age three haunts her entire Calabrian village, Grames's prickly antiheroine suffers debilitating accidents and illnesses throughout her unhappy life. She also eschews men, marriage, and sexuality, having witnessed her mother's abuse by her father. The family eventually immigrates to America, arriving in Connecticut not to the promised house but to a moldy third-floor walk-up, but the undaunted Stella develops a sense of agency unfamiliar to women steeped in Italian cultural mores and secrets away a portion of her earnings for an escape plan. Yet she's forced into marriage by her father and, as the babies arrive, mourns her lost independence, disappearing into a space where secrets, superstition, and jealousy thrive.
VERDICT Not your typical multigenerational saga, this debut novel proffers a dark version of the female experience, where motherhood leeches life from the soul. Stella is an original character ahead of her time, and readers may be troubled by her negativity and not wholly convinced by her action—but kudos to an author who can evoke such a strong reaction. For fans of Amy Tan or Isabelle Allende. [See Prepub Alert, 11/5/18.]
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