Picks and Pans Review: A Safe Place: the True Story of a Father, a Son, a Murder

updated 01/18/1993 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/18/1993 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Lorenzo Carcaterra

Growing up in New York City's brutish Hell's Kitchen, Carcaterra was once ordered by a gang leader to kill a boy who lay bleeding before him during a brawl. Carcaterra, then almost 9, threw his knife down and retreated. That brave act directly opposed the terrible will of his father, Mario, who felt his son was "too soft, too close" to his mother and kept urging him to fight.

This haunting, fast-paced memoir (by a frequent PEOPLE book reviewer) details the poignant struggle of a son to resist the legacy of uncontrollable rage that so profoundly afflicted his lather. For not only did Mario abuse and murder his first wife, he went on to assault and terrorize his second wife, the author's mother, as well as the author himself.

Most impressive is that Carcaterra manages thoroughly to bring to life a father in all his passionate complexities: a philandering, abusive man who is nonetheless brought to tears by the sound of a beautiful aria; a man who runs up debts with loan sharks because he is so recklessly generous and buys washing machines and refrigerators on a whim as gifts for friends; a man inspired to abrupt acts of violence by even the mildest affront to his ego but who will shower his son with kisses. The remarkable result is that this passionate father figure remains firmly lodged within the reader's sympathy. (Villard, $21)

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