The Greenfather: A Novel

  • By John Marshall
  • Three Rooms Press
  • 240 pp.

Fast-paced zingers aside, this Whole-Foods-meets-the-Mob sendup mostly falls flat.

I’m going to name 10 scenes or quotes from “The Godfather,” the films (I, II, or III). (By the way, which one was your favorite? Me? Part II. Almost Shakespearean, don’t you think? But I digress.)

On my list, one of the scenes or quotes did not appear in the new novel by John Marshall, The Greenfather. Here goes.

Horse Head.
Mob Funeral.
Big Five Families Meeting.
Don’t Start That Car.
Little Man Requests a Favor.
Dead Father.
Priest Confessional.

Oh, sorry. I’m not going list them all. I lied.

Fuhgedaboudit.

Got a “Godfather” favorite scene? A hoary cliché? Don’t worry. They’re all here in The Greenfather. Well, maybe not all of them. But it feels like it.

Capiche?

This terribly clever, trying-so-hard-to-be-a-nonstop-laugh-riot debut novel is, mercifully, a lightning-fast read, best suited to a beach — a dirty one, preferably Staten Island, definitely not St. John or someplace respectable like that.

With no pretentions for lit fic, no aspirations for high-end satire, veteran Emmy-nominated comedy writer Marshall goes straight for the gags, the tasty, groan-worthy puns, the joke-a-minute pace of 21st-century TV. You can almost hear the laugh track — 20 seconds and here comes the next punchline. Boom!

Unfortunately, this wisp of a novel doesn’t really work. Maybe I need to go into the reviewer-protection program for saying that.

Here’s the setup: Frankie “Simon” Raccione, eldest offspring of aging New York mob boss Francis Raccione, is the black sheep, the unfortunate son of one of the Five Families. Simon’s fadda is disappointed:

“‘Francis wanted more for Frankie than he ever had for himself,’ said the priest. ‘Senator Frankie, President Frankie. Talk-show host Frankie.’
“‘Now he’s Bean Sprout Frankie!’ said Jimmy. Everyone laughed.
“‘Remember the words of your fadda,’ said the priest.
“‘The Family’s always here for you if you get tired of sellin’ that shit.’”

Nice to have a plan B.

But Prius-driving Simon wants to save the earth. Looking to get Manhattan eating right, he’s opening “Good Eggs, Inc., soon to be New York’s number-one organic destination — according to the app Manhipster.” The hipper-than-you Whole Foods-ish store’s slogan is, “Make ‘Em an Omelette They Can’t Refuse.” The fruit aisle features An Inconvenient Fruit. And, Lime Waits for No One.

Then there’s Carotene Alley. And Darwin’s Theory of Cerealution, featuring Frosted Chromosome-O’s.

Tasty. Dig ‘em all.

The store opens, but Simon’s fadda is iced. One thing leads to another, and Simon becomes the reluctant, sandal-wearing head of the Family. He is, however, determined to do the right thing. The Family is going to clean up Noo Yawk, get the Big Apple’s diet squared away, make America sit up straight again. As his smart cookie of a wife, Marla, sez, he’s redirecting all that cannaloni-fueled mob rule in a positive direction.

Goons and hilarity ensue.

At least, goons ensue.

Simon says:

“‘I want you to clean up the beach.’
“‘Sure,’ said Goon Number One. ‘Get rid of your enemies, right?’
“‘No,’ said Simon. ‘Pick up trash, put it in bags, then sort it for recycling.’
“‘Oh,’ said Goon Number One. ‘I thought you meant “clean up the beach” as in ice all the people on the beach.’
 “‘Did he say no icing?’ said Goon Number Five. ‘What if I have a cake?’
“‘He’s not talking about cake icing,’ said Goon Number Four.
“‘What about cookie icing?’
“‘He’s not talking about icing on any kind of baked goods,’ said Goon Number One.
“‘He’s talking about icing people.’
“‘So we’re icing people?’ said Goon Number Five.
“‘No!’ said Simon.”

Yeah, it’s cute, in a dumb sort of way. It goes on and on like that. The steady diet of low-protein gags makes the novel very skimmable. Go ahead. You won’t miss much.

Simon’s right-hand man, George, gets a job offer from another crime family, the Brampblinos. George tells Simon he’s tired of being on the straight and narrow:

“‘Is that what this is about?’ said Simon. ‘Your compulsion to do something illegal?’
“‘It’s what a family does,’ said George. ‘If everything I do is legit, I can’t advance in the world of organized crime.’
“‘Why do you want to advance?’ said Simon. ‘You used to be into organic food.’
“‘Now I’m into organic crime.’
“‘What does that mean?’ said Simon.
“‘Crime that grows naturally, abundantly, illegally,’ said George.”  

I do like that line. The gags fly around fast, over and over again in mercifully short, bite-sized, increasingly tiresome chapters. The bits and shticks come at you like a Groundhog Day of jokes. Your mileage may vary.

 Things go downhill:

“‘He’s a fat fuck.’
“‘So are you,’ said Obese Maximillian.
“‘So are you,’ said Overweight Edgar.
“‘Shut the fuck up, over here.’
“‘Make me, over here.’
“‘Fuck you.’
“‘Fuck you.’
“‘Fuck you.’
“‘No, fuck you.’
“‘No, fuck you.’
“‘No, fuck you.’
“‘Can I help you gentlemen with something?’ said Maxine.”  

Repetition like that is a sort of The Greenfather-meets-Monty Python thing. It’s a favorite and frequent Marshall go-to bit. Like:

“‘The fuck you are.’
“‘The fuck I won’t.’
“‘The fuck you will.’
“‘The fuck I won’t.’
“‘The fuck you will.’
“‘The fuck I…I lost my place,’ said Overweight Edgar.”  

I think I lost my place, too.

Capiche? Capiche.

Barry Wightman’s first novel, Pepperland, a revolutionary, technology, rock ‘n’ roll love story, was published in 2013, received a starred review on Booklist and won a Silver IPPY for best fiction from the Independent Publishers Book Awards. Visit www.barrywightman.com.

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