Review: Last Acts by Alexander Sammartino – Chekhov’s Gun Store

What would Anton Chekhov say about introducing a gun store in the first act? To Sammartino, he might say, well done. Sammartino makes full use of the gun shop in Last Acts. It’s both the source of failure and redemption. It’s tied to a mass shooting. If a gun store can be fired, then Sammartino demonstrates how with a certain Wile E Coyote verve. It’s a place for a white, conservative men to identify with especially when it means in opposition to protestors.

In a novel that focuses on a father and son relationship, where failure haunts them both, the gun store does a lot of heavy lifting. It becomes the place where the Rizzos reconnect as the son tries to save the store after technically dying from an overdose and becoming sober.

What I didn’t love about the novel was the son being an addict. Partly, from what my thesis advisor Gerry Shapiro (check out his short story collection Bad Jews) said about addicts in fiction. Basically, that they have no room for growth. An addict is always in recovery or relapsing. An addict is always an addict. That stuck with me, and in fiction, I’ve found limited examples of where that’s not the case. As the son becomes sober, we’re waiting for his relapse. It’s a cycle.

Part of what Last Acts is about is the cyclical nature of the Rizzos, that is to say of a desire to get rich and make it that for some people leads to failure and reduced circumstances. The next time they’ll catch a break. The Rizzos are marks. They get swindled. They try to swindle. The father realizes he’s not as smart as he once thought, but the son is learning all of the lessons the dad already learned.

By the end of the novel, it’s almost comedic as the father is caught up in new events not of his choosing. He wants to die, as he knows life will only get worse. The son can’t see that yet. He’s happy his dad’s alive. The cycle continues.

This isn’t a book of likable characters. The Rizzos are affable losers. They would fit in having a beer with Sully from Richard Russo’s Fool novels. Though Sully would probably break the dad’s nose and make fun of him. The Rizzos are characters on the outskirts and Sammartino provides us a glimpse of what life on the outskirts can look like as people try to scratch a life out of the Arizona desert.

Tim Lepczyk

Writer, Technologist, and Librarian.

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