In his novel The Godfather, Mario Puzo used his life in New York, his penetrating imagination, and some kind of exotic material for polishing prose to reveal the world of the Mafia. In that world, the reader observes the coming of age of Michael Corleone, as he reluctantly confronts his complicated fate as a gangster. This leads him down the path to self-betrayal.
Puzo died in 1999, but he left behind a screenplay, which Ed Falco has used to write a new novel, The Family Corleone. It’s hard not to be skeptical about this enterprise until you remember that the ancient Greeks traded characters and themes as well.
The Family Corleone is a prequel to The Godfather. It takes place in the mid-1930s, as the Corleones strive to consolidate power. If Puzo’s novel conveys Michael Corleone’s coming of age, Falco’s novel describes the coming of age of the oldest brother, Sonny.
At the outset of the book, Sonny has emerged into reckless early adulthood, running a hijacking crew that puts the Corleones at risk. Unlike his brother Michael, Sonny embraces the idea of joining the family business. However, as the story unfolds and Sonny gets deeper into the realities of gangland warfare, he comes face to face with the same theme that haunts Michael.
Halfway through the The Family Corleone, I started to wonder if Puzo had willed his silk to Falco. Sonny’s road to making a life-changing choice is compelling and complex.