Don Corleone put his hand on the man’s shoulder. “Good,” he said, “you shall have your justice. Some day, and that day may never come, I will call upon you to do me a service in return.”
A classic among the modern classics, which I had woefully ignored, I barely even remember watching the film. Clearly, the whole Godfather cult had passed me by.
That is, until the stars aligned and I had a new interest in all things Sicilian and Troy proposed The Godfather as a buddy read.
Well, the good thing about the book was that it was fast paced and made for utterly compelling reading – from beginning to end. There were a few parts that were less interesting to me such as the whole Johnny Fontane (i.e. Frank Sinatra) side story or the sudden shift from fast paced action tale into flashbacks of Don Vito Corleone’s early days. These parts fleshed out the book and gave a little more complexity to the story, but they also slowed down the book for me. Without them, I am sure I would not have set the book down. I even once debated whether it was worth getting up from my “reading chair” to get a cup of coffee!
The more I got into the story, tho, the more problematic reading the book became.
All of the main characters, without exception, are despicable human beings, and I repeatedly wanted to punch them. Hard. I guess it was just lucky that part of the story was about how they would try to kill each other in some phony attempt at revenge for some or other character not being “respectful” enough. The whole idea of honour and respect was just warped to the extreme. Of course, as the whole community existed and worked outside of society, it was free to define terms like “honour” and “respect” along with other concepts and rules for itself, but this also worked to question those concepts and how they applied to any society.
In that respect, Puzo’s book is rather fascinating, too, and I have to say that this was probably the most surprising aspect of the read. I went into the book expecting horrible people doing horrible deeds, but I did not expect to marvel about Puzo creating this hook that would draw me into an alternate reality that may or may not exist (or have existed) for real. And the potential realism is as daunting as it is depressing.
The ruthlessness, the sheer disregard for any values, implied a man who considered himself completely his own law, even his own God.
The only aspect that was more depressing than the unsettling realism was the marginalisation of outsiders in the setup of this alternate society, whether they are non-Sicilians, or women, or any other group. For the most part even, these outsiders accepted their role as valueless disposables. Even characters that had a choice to leave somehow willingly submitted into this web of oppression, which resulted in one of the worst proposals of marriage:
You’ll be my wife but you won’t be my partner in life, as I think they say. Not an equal partner. That can’t be.
I really wanted to poke these characters in the eye. Repeatedly. But by the same token, I have to say that watching these lives unravel is part of what makes this book such a gripping read. It’s just that I also had to think of the status of the story as one of the cult classics that has been adored for its imagery , much like Fleming’s famous creation. And as with James Bond, there is only one thing that I am taking away from The Godfather: We need new icons.