Tony’s Wife by Adriana Trigiani (Harper and Collins, 2018)

When I was a teenager, dancing in my room to “Dancin’ Machine” by the Jackson Five or “Jungle Boogie” by Kool and the Gang, my father would, on occasion, poke his head into my room and query, “What are you listening to?” I knew that I was in for “the lecture,” how young people of my generation didn’t appreciate what good music was all about. Then he’d launch into the Gene Krupa, Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Jimmy Dorsey, Glenn Miller lecture, and end by inviting me to listen to his vast collection of 78 rpm recordings of these masters. Fortunately, I took Dad up on his invitation and began to appreciate the great swing music that his generation of youngsters swooned over.

In the captivating new novel by Adriana Trigiani, Tony’s Wife, Trigiani creates two dynamic characters, Chi Chi Donatelli and Saverio Armondonado, who meet in Sea Isle City, New Jersey, when they are just teenagers themselves. The young team bonds over their passion for writing and singing swing, and end up touring the country performing such unforgettable hits as “Jelly Bean Beach,” “Gravy, Gravy, Gravy,” and let us not forget “Mama’s Rolling Pin.” Tony’s Wife is a tribute to the pre-World War II era when “swing was king,” and young people learned to jitterbug and swoon when Frank Sinatra grabbed the mike.

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Chi Chi is intent on having a major career as a songwriter and remains amused at Saverio’s active love life which she watches while they are on the road. Other performers on the long bus tours fall for Saverio’s dark, curly hair and handsome face, while Chi Chi maintains her professional distance. She doesn’t see herself saddled down with a husband and family. Chi Chi longs for financial independence, using her mother who was widowed in her 40s as the incentive for her belief that women need to cultivate careers and a healthy bank account for themselves. Chi Chi’s business acumen is a deft as her ability to write hit songs for the songstress, Dinah Shore.

However, all of that changes when Saverio, (now re-named Tony Arno by his manager) decides to join the Navy and fight in World War II. Before leaving for his dangerous assignment aboard a submarine, Saverio confesses to Chi Chi that she is the one woman to whom he could remain true, and convinces her, despite her niggling doubts, to chuck the single life and marry him.

Marriage to the rising singing sensation, Tony Arno, has its benefits, most particularly a set of girl twins, Sunny and Rosie, and a beautiful boy, Leone, named after Tony’s father, with whom Tonyj had had a tempestuous relationship. However, being married to a celebrity who travels all over the country most of the year, raising one’s children with little support, and foregoing her own career as a singer-songwriter, costs Chi Chi daily and puts her into a constant internal battle to regain control of her life.

Familiar Trigiani themes are seen in Tony’s Wife, including the importance of family in an individual’s life, and pride in one’s heritage and cultural roots. Trigiani always celebrates her respect and passion for her Italian genes, and they are included in her prose like another character in the story. Much of the background details of the novel are taken from family lore, which makes the narrative all the richer and more authentic.

Reading an Adriana Trigiani is like eating the best tiramisu that one could ever desire, and that includes her latest novel Tony’s Wife. There is a sweetness to Trigiani’s tales, which are frequently family sagas that span a lifetime. The characters are multi-layered and rich, like the rum enhanced sweet; everyone is slightly flawed, but most have their redeeming qualities. Once again Trigiani invites us in for a delicious read that can be enjoyed by the fireplace on a cold, winter night.