I was excited to begin reading Very Valentine because it is the first book in a trilogy, revolves around an Italian-American family, and involves the arts'that of custom shoe making. It was also the book chosen by our book club to read for the month of April. Very Valentine is about a thirty-three year-old woman who works as an apprentice to her artisan grandmother, owner of a family business, The Angelini Shoe Company, that makes custom wedding shoes since 1903. When the business is in financial trouble, Valentine wants to save it. An opportunity to introduce the Angelini shoe business to the retail world presents itself and Valentine discovers her true love for the art in the process.
Very Valentine engendered mixed feelings in our group of ten women: three loved the book, three liked it and four did not like it. I liked it, and I had a few good laughs reading it. I related to some of the references to the Italian culture, such as the wedding, food, and the language. And of course, I loved her inclusion of a trip to Tuscany and Capri, but it was clear that Valentine was a true New Yorker and preferred the Hudson River to Il Lago Argento. I also had a love/hate relationship with Trigiani's writing style. Her use of comparisons reminded me of Raymond Chandler's novels'innovative, imaginative and funny. Sometimes there were too many and they disrupted the flow as my mind was trying to visualize the mental picture her comparisons evoked.
The beginning was a little slow. Initially, I thought the novel read like a sit-com. I thought, Are these characters for real? But then one-third into the book it took off as Valentine started taking action to save the shoe company and goes to Italy. I felt the writing was better from this moment on.
One of the main reasons some in my book club loved it was because of the details about the custom shoe making and how the story revolved around this fascinating and lost art. Ironically, one of the reasons some did not like it was the too long description of everything from shoes, to clothes to walls. The two youngest members of the group also thought that some of the incidents regarding shoes were unrealistic. For example, it didn't jive that a family known for its shoe making would make fun of the sister-in-law for wearing 5-inch heels when most young New Yorkers wear such high-heeled shoes!
I wondered about Valentine's relationship with Roman throughout the novel. I think he did his best to make the relationship work, and I couldn't understand Valentine's resentment that they didn't see each other enough when both were so occupied with their businesses (owning and running a restaurant is a tough one). When she goes to Tuscany and openly admires Gianluca, I knew she was courting trouble. (For those of you ladies who are unfamiliar with the Italian man, showing any measure of interest is like giving permission for him to brazenly pursue you. Uh-huh!) It made me see Valentine's ambivalent feelings for Roman. Although I liked the characters I did not feel attached to any of them. Teodora, the grandmother was special, though, and very sprightly for an eighty year-old!
What I liked most about the book was the passion for the arts. And this observation from Valentine caught my attention: 'I used to believe my art had to be about the things that brought me joy and gave me hope. But I learned that art can be found in all of life, even in pain.' How true.
Will I read the sequel? Yes, most likely. I want to know what happens to the shoe company and to Teodora, and to see if Valentine will find true love'apart from her shoe creations.
Note: The hardcover edition does not include the recipes in the back of the book that the softcover edition does.