“Promise me you’ll always take care of each other. Frankie, you make sure you tell your brother I asked you both to do that when he’s old enough to understand.”
That final supplication from Frankie and Michael’s dying mother lays the foundation for Tom Mendicino’s “The Boys from Eighth and Carpenter” and establishes the brotherly bond that carries the reader through years of celebrations and challenges.
Mendicino begins the tale of the two brothers in the present, where, eventually, the two precipitously intersect in adulthood when Frankie takes action against his indiscreet and sometimes abusive boyfriend with calamitous results. The opening scene is clear, concise and carefully crafted to hook the reader immediately before retreating into the past to more or less watch the guys grow up together.
For the first third of the book, the story alternates between one brother’s life one week and the other’s a month later, as life does not always happen at the same pace or in the same instant for everyone. There are occasional passages that are easily skimmed when Mendicino waxes a little too eloquently and some of the Philly references feel a little forced, but for the most part it’s a very easy, connected story.
The two trudge through school and Papa’s series of wives as they grow up in South Philly. Frankie comes to terms with his sexuality and little brother Mikey learns to accept it as well as they go through school, puberty and some abusive times growing up.
As the years progress for these brothers and their personalities diverge and yet coalesce, Mendicino creates a flowing family story of two otherwise unremarkable characters and makes their relationship the powerful centerpiece. Eventually we learn that Frankie takes the family barbershop and makes a salon out of it and Michael marries into a wealthy family and pursues law.
In the second part, we fast-forward to the weeks before Easter 2008 leading up to the discovery from the opening. Day to day we watch as the story unfolds and creep toward the revelation of a body in the freezer in Frankie’s basement.
Part three begins back at the moment we finish finding that body in the prologue. By this time, the story is so engrossing, the page-turning becomes almost frantic.
“The Boys from Eighth and Carpenter” is about all of us. It’s about us as individuals, us as siblings, us as children of our parents and us as life’s events mold us and wring us out. In the end, we should learn that our relationships are not just the day-to-day or the single-event memories but a whole life greater than the sum of its parts.
Tom Medicino will sign copies of his book at PAT @ Giovanni’s Room Oct. 11 during OutFest.