This ambitious novel (420 pages) by Ms Guzzo-McParland is an epic story of an Italian family emigrating to Canada, some (like Caterina the narrator) to join their family, others (like her older friend Lucia) to meet husbands for the first time. They make the voyage by the sea in the late 1950’s onboard the Saturnalia, from which the story takes its title. Caterina, her mother Teresa along with Lucia the teenage proxy bride are “the women” of the Saturnalia.While many of the passengers experience sea sickness for much of the voyage, Caterina and Lucia do not and have the freedom of the ship. Younger Caterina is charged with monitoring Lucia, ensuring that she doesn’t get involved with any of the overly-attentive male staff, a task which Caterina neither likes nor is entirely successful at. It is here, onboard the Saturnalia that the back story is developed and the reclusive, bookish young Caterina is awakened to the realities of life. Engrossed, she wants to remember it all and write it down with aspirations of becoming an author one day.
Presently, Lucia has been the victim of a vicious beating and lies comatose in a Montreal hospital. Speculative ties are made to the Montreal mafia, and while Caterina cannot quite believe it, she feels she must find out how her fellow ‘woman of Saturnalia’ came to be in this situation.
“There are still too many circles floating around me, all bits of one life! How to make sense of it all in a linear form? There are still some huge gaps in Lucia’s story between our ocean crossing and now.”
Her search takes her back to the rustic Calabrian village of Mulirena, where she and Lucia grew up and where Lucia was to marry Antonio until an incident occurred and she was forced to become a proxy bride for Pasquale, who was already in Montreal. Now, with his wife in a coma, Pasquale has fled back to Italy and more questions are raised in Caterina’s mind, as well as amongst the paesani in Montreal. Added to her worries are Lucia’s troubled teen daughter Angie and her boyfriend Sean’s aspirations for public office and how all this reflects poorly on his public image.
A greatly enjoyable, well-written and constructed story with many layers that kept the narrative moving along briskly and the pages turning. The story’s setting gives an insight into the Montreal of the post-Olympic era when the construction scandals were exposed and mob ties were the centre of attention, causing the Italian community to be further stereotyped.
Yet, The Women of Saturn winds up with a somewhat dissatisfying and all too sudden conclusion, leaving this reader with more questions than answers. Notwithstanding, this book is a fine novel demonstrating that Ms Guzzo-McParland can write a gripping novel, though one that begs a more definitive conclusion.