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Literature / In A Glass House

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In a Glass House is the 1993 sequel to Lives of the Saints, written by Nino Ricci.

After a harrowing voyage from Italy, during which his mother died, seven-year-old Vittorio (Victor) arrives in Canada with his newborn half-sister, and is reunited with his estranged father. The story that follows spans two decades of Vittorio's life within an immigrant Italian farming community in Southwestern Ontario, through his university years, an then into Africa where he goes to teach.

At the centre of Vittorio's existence is his strained relationship with his father and with his half-sister.

Followed by Where She Has Gone.


Book contains examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: The years spent working tirelessly in Canada have been cruel to Mario, and have only worsened his already abusive character. For good measure, when he puts Vittorio to work in the family's greenhouse, young Vittorio tries his best to not make mistakes (albeit unsuccessfully) as to not placate his father's wrath. When he does...
    Vittorio: I had steeled myself instinctively against a blow. But the blow didn't come.
    • Mario's cousin, Alfredo is not all that nice with his daughter, Gelsomina, either. The few times they interact, he refers to her as a stronza ("piece of shit"), and hits her.
  • A Date with Rosie Palms: Vittorio does this in the bathtub while fantasizing about Crystal.
  • Ambiguous Disorder: Vittorio has many moments where he gets angry at others without provocation, and occasionally comes to blows with his older cousins, Rocco and Dominico. Partially justified given that his entire family likely fueled this behaviour.
    • Even though Vittorio is still an English language learner, he has an unusual low attention span. The following quote may imply that he has some form of ADHD:
    Vittorio: ...even though I knew Sister Bertram would catch me out, that I wouldn't learn if I didn't pay attention, still I couldn't stop my mind from wandering, because the moment Sister Bertram began to talk I'd feel the classroom slipping away from me the way a dream did in the first moments of wakefulness, and I couldn't force myself then to hold the world in focus...
  • Attempted Rape: Vittorio's second cousin, fifteen-year old Gelsomina, lures the seven-year old Vitto into the boiler room and proceeds to strip naked in front of him. She casually asks the confused child if he think she's beautiful, daring him to state otherwise. Despite Gelsomina never outright touching Vittorio inappropriately, it was clear she had things in mind for them—that is, until Mario drives up to the house, forcing Gelsomina to run for cover.
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  • Bastard Angst: Despite Rita having never met her birth mother, she angsts over the fact that she's the product of an affair, and how this makes her the object of hate from her "family members". See Black Sheep below.
  • Big, Screwed-Up Family: Oh, and how.
  • Black Sheep: Rita. She's seen by her half-brother's family as the personification of Cristina's infidelity, and is treated cruelly by her step-father. Nearly every female member of the Innocente family that becomes initally endeared with her slowly grows to resent her due to how her presence causes unnecessary problems.
  • The Cobbler's Children Have No Shoes: Vittorio and Gelsomina are on the brink of starvation when they run out of food after the grownups neglect to go grocery shopping, despite the fact that they live on a vegetable farm.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Tsia Teresa is looked down upon by her male relatives because she was the only member of the family to finish primary school (back when children typically stopped at the fifth grade, then dropped out to work on the fields). Mario wonders why she wasted time getting an education instead of doing her rightful "duty" as a housewife.
  • Driven to Suicide: Mario drowns himself in the family's irrigation pond. It was officially ruled an accident by authorities. However, due to his recurring financial troubles throughout his twenty years in Canada, the insurance company is holding out on payment until they can investigate the true cause of his death.
    • Vittorio himself outright admits his desire to commit suicide, which was only amplified in his college years in Toronto when he discovers the body of a girl who had thrown herself out of her window. Thankfully, he quickly reaches out to a campus counsellor at Centennial.
  • Gratuitous Italian: The Innocents throw in random Italian works whenever they're angry (which is all the time). However, given they're all recent immigrants, it's heavily implied that they're actually speaking Italian, but the text appears in English for the reader's benefit.
  • Happily Adopted: Zig-zagged. Rita was clearly unhappy living with the Innocentes, knowing full well that they see her as nothing more than a nausance. She is much happier when she's adopted by her best friend, Elena Amherst's family.
  • Hypocrite: Mario only hires other Italian immigrants to work on the family farm because, as he explains to Umberto, they must help out their own first before helping foreigners...despite the fact he and his entire family are themselves foreigners.
    • In his defense, Italian immigrants in the 50's faced discrimination from most people, including from other immigrants, note  evidenced by how some of the non-Italian workers are seen stealing food crates from the Innocentes, or how an English factory worker reported Gelsomina to the boss because she was under the legal age to work (but it was made clear that he reported her, not so much for her age, but because she was Italian).
  • Incest Subtext: Whenever Vittorio visits the Amhersts to see his sister, he has the tendency to describe her ever-changing body quite erotically. Unlike with his mother though, he feels guilty at the way he stares at Rita this way, and has to physically restrain himself from continously staring. Keep in mind, Rita is only a pre-teen when this happens.
  • Locked Out of the Loop: Vittorio is understandably angry when he discovers that his t'sia Teresa has been secretly visiting Rita to tell her the rather unsavory backstory of her origins.
  • Mighty Whitey: Michael accuses Vittorio of this when the latter takes up a teaching at a boarding school in Nigeria. However during his actual two year stay in Nigeria, Vittorio, in his persistent depression, feels no sense of superiority for his white skin. On the contrary, he'll ocassionally feel slight inferior for not understanding African culture because he's white.
  • Mixed Ancestry: Since it was established in the previous novel that Rita's biological father was a German army officer, Rita is of mixed Italian and German ancestry.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Sister Mary, the teacher who replaces Sister Bertram after she falls ill. She understands Vittorio's dificulties in school due to the language barrier. Vittorio initially warms up to her, and actually makes the effort to learn English with her during his recess hours.
  • Shoot the Dog: Mario kills Rita's dog with a shotgun when it returns home several days after he had driven it far away.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Alfredo accuses Mario of having this at one point, pointing out how he tried to uplift his social image by marrying the mayor's daughter (which tanked for the worst), then abandoning his family to go to Canada just to make himself look like the hard-working family man. He's not wrong.
  • Troubling Unchildlike Behaviour: Rita (and presumable Elena) starts smoking in middle school, stating she usually does this when she's anxious. Vittorio doesn't approve this, but grudgingly tolerates it. Proabably has to do with the fact that he started smoking at the tender age of six with Fabrizio in the previous book.

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