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IN BRIEF

Fiction

November 12, 1995|CHRIS GOODRICH

IN A GLASS HOUSE: by Nino Ricci (Picador USA: $22; 274 pp.) While teaching in Nigeria, soon after completing college in Toronto, Vittorio Innocente receives a letter from his long-widowed father saying, "It makes me sad to think you've gone, and to know you don't value the life I tried to make for you." Mario Innocente may be a willfully stubborn, violent, ill-educated farmer, but his appraisal is correct: Victor/Vittorio, the narrator of this novel, doesn't want to be a paesano in an Italian immigrant community in rural Canada, can't help but see his father as "a liability to be gotten beyond." In this second volume of a projected trilogy (following "The Book of Saints"), Nino Ricci has produced a lyrical but overly diffuse account of cultural displacement, with Victor attempting to understand how he can be both smothered and sustained by his family's "usual closed tyranny." At first it seems the novel will focus on the relationship among Mario, Victor and Rita, Victor's mysteriously ill-begotten sister, but Ricci lets the controlled volatility of this triangle dissipate, allowing "In a Glass House"--named, metaphorically, after Mario's greenhouse--to become an unexceptional coming-of-age novel. Favoring reportorial appraisal over self-conscious angst, Ricci ends up producing a novel that's too cold-blooded, too detached, to be involving. Glass house or no, he should have thrown more stones.

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