When Vito Santoro’s body is inadvertently unearthed by a demolition crew in Fregene, Italy, his siblings are thrown into turmoil, having been told by their sister Piera that Vito had fled to Argentina fifty years earlier after abandoning his wife and son. Piera, the self-proclaimed matriarch, locks herself in her room, refusing to speak to anyone but her Canadian nephew, David. Now scattered over three continents, the family members regroup in Italy to try to discover the truth. They all arrive rife with their own resentments and conflicting desires: Aldo, the successful barrister everyone leans on; Teresa, the angry, abandoned wife; Renato, who lost Teresa to his brother Vito; Mimí, the bitter, ironic baby of the family; Clarissa, the famous opera diva whose peripatetic life had her frequently leaving her son David in the care of Piera; and David who reluctantly accompanies his mother to Italy to bury his long-lost uncle.
Set against the countryside of Italy’s Adriatic coast, Solitaria is a tale of longing and family honour, told from two points of view: Piera’s and David’s. With the unravelling of their stories, we glimpse a woman’s growing awareness of her own capacity for self-delusion, and of the consequences of her actions on others, and a young man’s awakening to the depth of his roots.
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[Solitaria] is a story with many masks or stories within stories but it is told so fluidly you hardly notice the complexity of the writing. It is part murder mystery, part romance, part historical account, and part family saga. It is quite simply, literature at its finest and a story like no other. The fact that it is set primarily in Southern Italy, with a brief early stop in Vancouver, Canada, imbues it with an earthy, lusty, almost ancient tone that lingers long after you close the book.
-- Val B. Russell HerCircle e-zine
Gunn has a fresh and epigrammatic writing style, perhaps unsurprising in someone who has also published poetry and short fiction. Solitaria is a compelling read and the ending comes as a total shock even to the armchair detectives who explore every angle to the enigmatic Piera's story as she relates it to David. Her aged family have gathered from across the world when the body of the eldest brother, Vito, is found, having been dead since the 1950's, when presumed living in anonymity in Argentina. It is the present day, but the novel's laurels lie in her childhood recollections of Mussolini's Italy, evoking rare and unusual sympathies for the confused Fascists who, like Piera's family, survived on rationed bread and dandelion greens.
A cheerful romp in the park Solitaria is not, but it is one you cannot put down. Again, it serves to illustrate that everyone's memories and experiences, even of the same events, are vastly different, even as we revolve in our own self-serving orbits.”
—The Winnipeg Review
In Gunn’s narrative, we switch channels back and forth between the tempestuous reunion in 2002 and the Santoro family’s hardships from Mussolini’s era onwards. . . . Gunn’s depiction of David as the bewildered confidante and reluctant siphon for his aunt’s tale of woe is perfectly drawn. He doubles as a cultural translator for the novel itself, unexpectedly
immersed in passionate Italian intrigues as a polite, trustworthy, respectful
and somewhat aloof Canadian.Gunn succeeds in making us curious; and she succeeds in making us care about the characters. Solitaria is a deeply moving, intellectually stimulating, complex and fully realized novel.
A rivetting tale of sacrifice and obligation, of vision and revision, of vengeance, betrayal, and ultimately, redemption. Through the brilliantly quixotic voice of Piera, Gunn enlivens the Italy of the 1940s and deftly draws us into the complex, compelling story of la Solitaria. With a filmmaker's eye for sharp shifts in point of view and a master storyteller's ear for spoken and unspoken truths, Gunn keeps us wondering to the very end, Who in this family can we believe?
– Merilyn Simonds, author of The Holding
"[Gunn] brings dusty Italy to life, moving from 1926 up to 2002. [She] gives us the poverty, the clearly defined sex roles, a Canadian confusion when confronted by vendettas, and she manages to have seven different voices speaking solo, then in harmony, then in spiteful duets. There's even a surprise crescendo at the end. . . . as [characters] give their versions [of the story], and fill in the blanks, we are reminded that a traffic accident seen by seven different people may have seven different versions. But only Piera knows the most important facts -- and like any good storyteller she knows when to pause, so that the rush to the revelation at the end has the most power. Like a good aria.”
– Winnipeg Free Press