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The Calling of Saint Matthew

The Whale Chaser

The Habit of Art

In the Garden of Papa Santuzzu

Taking It Home

Larabi's Ox

The Evening News

Heart of the Order

In the Name of the Father

Biography of Tony Ardizzone


The Evening News

The Evening News

Winner of the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction

Tony Ardizzone writes of the moments in our lives that shine, that burn in the dim expanse of memory with the intensity and vivid light of the evening news. The men and women in these stories tend to arrange their days, order their pasts, plan their futures in the light of such moments, finding epiphanies in the glowing memory of a father's laugh or a mother's repeated story, in a broken date or a rained-out ball game.

Set mostly in Chicago's blue-collar neighborhoods, these stories focus on subjects that concern us all: disease and death, vandalism and sacrilege, rape and infidelity, lost love. In "My Mother's Stories" a son resolves his mounting grief over his mother's imminent death by recalling the stories she has told all her life. "My Father's Laugh" tells of a young man teetering on the brink of adulthood, and finally finding hope and reassurance from the remembered sound of his bus-driver father's laugh, from remembered phrases such as "Move away from the window, lady, can't you see I'm driving" and "If you ain't got a quarter or a token there, grandma, you and your purse can get off at the next stop." The Evening News

The husband and wife in the title story look at their pasts -- his as an activist in the sixties and hers as a believer in reincarnation and the tarot -- in light of the news stories they watch on television each evening, and question whether they should bring a child into the world. And in "The Walk-On," a bartender and former varsity pitcher for the University of Illinois Fighting Illini finds the actual events of the most cataclysmic day in his past unequal to their impact on his life and so rewrites them in his mind, adding an ill-placed banana peel, a falling meteor, and a careening truck in order to create a more fitting climax and finally to leave those memories behind him.

Searching their pasts for clues to the present, searching the horizons of their days for love, the characters in The Evening News seek, and sometimes find, redemption in a world of uncertainty and brightly burning emotions.

University of Georgia Press jacket copy

Paperback Cover Design by Erin New
Hardcover Jacket design by Tim Blalock

University of Georgia Press Hardcover * October 1986 * ISBN 0-8203-0860-9
University of Georgia Press Paperback * March 2013 * ISBN 0-8203-4461-3


Studies in Short Fiction review of The Evening News, by Tony Ardizzone.
Copyright © 1987 by Studies in Short Fiction, Summer 1987. Reviewed by Ronald L. Johnson.

Once again the editors at the University of Georgia Press have selected an impressive collection for their annual Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction. The "news" that these eleven stories -- all previously published in literary magazines -- bring to us is good: another accomplished writer of short fiction has arrived with his first collection of stories. Ardizzone's subjects are usually second-generation Italians, working class, Catholics, in Chicago. Most of his best stories are realistic, yet lyrical character portrayals. They are the traditional story, a few of them done about as well as such stories can be done: "My Mother's Stories"; the title story, "The Evening News"; "Idling." Such stories remind one of Andre Dubus or Richard Ford or Charles Baxter or Jonathan Penner; there is a certain sensibility common to these writers. The reader rejoices in the craft, in the artistic accomplishment, but most importantly, occasionally the reader is moved in some profound way by the reading. Ardizzone does stand apart from these other writers in his ability also to write successfully the "experimental" story. The problem with "experimental" stories is that although they are sometimes intellectually interesting, almost never are they emotionally satisfying. The two such stories in this collection, "The Walk-On" and "My Father's Laugh," are successful on both counts. They are stories of the imagination, in the same way that the Robert Coover story, "The Babysitter," is a story of the imagination, of the tension between fictional reality and "real" reality. I do not know if Ardizzone has read the Coover story, but I can not imagine his having written either of these stories without having done so.

Many of these stories are about men in their late thirties or early forties, the 1960s people who are now part of the establishment. These characters are portrayed with an authenticity and sensitivity that will appeal to that generation of readers. "The Intersection," a story of a man in a demonstration, might well become a classic, the way that the Irwin Shaw story, "The Girls in Their Summer Dresses," became a classic for an earlier, different generation. It is not Ardizzone's most impressive story, even in its perfection, but like the Shaw story, it carries the sensibility of a generation in its subject and in its tone.

In addition to middle-aged men, these stories are about girls, old women, family relationships, marriages. Ardizzone has a range of subject to match his complexity and his intensity; it is only a matter of time before his work will become more widely-read and appreciated.

The Washington Times review of The Evening News, by Tony Ardizzone.
"Streets of Chicago Yield Faith & Fire," copyright © 1986 by The Washington Times, November 24, 1986. Reviewed by Mark Schaffer.

The fiction so much the rage these days is supposedly that of "ordinary" lives. But "ordinary" is a slippery term that should be approached with caution. Today's popular short stories are often concerned with arcane middle-American rituals like hunting and religious retreats. What seems to be going on is that the literature factories have successfully processed regions like the suburban South and the remote Northwest into a home-grown exoticism for sophisticated readers.

The more familiar strains of everyday life don't interest editors much, which is one reason fiction of the city (save the city of the yuppies on New York's East Side or in San Francisco) is in decline. This is unfortunate, because the people in The Evening News, Tony Ardizzone's tales set mostly in the working-class neighborhoods of Chicago's North Side, have lives well worth examining.

Mr. Ardizzone, a recent winner of the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction, immediately commands interest for what he does not do. No minimalist foot soldier, he mines fresh fictional veins and displays a stunning stylistic range in this collection. The stories in The Evening News include rich, detailed reminiscences of his family's history, memories of growing up Catholic in Chicago, moving adolescent dramas, plus '60s-style Nabokovian black humor and irony.

The stories are shot through with such un-'80s-like concerns as passion, religious belief and even political commitment -- all engagingly out of step with current literary winds.

Subtexts abound in the book, but the strongest is the power of faith, usually religious but sometimes worldly as well, and the struggle to believe. To the people who inhabit the author's Chicago neighborhoods, religion -- Roman Catholicism and its rituals -- is inseparable from existence. It surrounds and permeates daily life. For years, comics and writers have crudely portrayed the debilitating effects of growing up Catholic in America. Mr. Ardizzone rejects these potshots and instead celebrates the enormous power of religion in coloring and enhancing ordinary events.

There is more than a little of the influence of modern Latin American writers in a story like "The Eyes of Children," in which a young boy (perhaps the author) comes to believe that a bleeding wino who vandalized his beloved neighborhood church and frightened two schoolmates is Jesus himself. Mr. Ardizzone skillfully blends adolescent fantasy with a child's look at the real world to convey the loss of innocence experienced by the boy, whose name is Gino.

Gino's loss of faith and the road back are typical of the book. "No miracle. A flush as burning as the flame washed over him. Fool. To try to be special. To believe. A sudden sorrow fell over him. All at once the world seemed very dark and very big."

All of Mr. Ardizzone's people are pilgrims in that "big dark world," cut off from something rich and valuable in their past, something that part of them wishes they had never left. Their estrangement is given both comic and tragic touches.

In "World Without End," a suicidal young man, Peter, drives his mother and father, visitors from Chicago, through the streets of Norfolk, Virginia, in search of a Catholic church. Here Mr. Ardizzone gives us a warmly humorous sceenplaylet cut from the broad cloth of ethnic comedy. Lena, Peter's doting mother, is a perfect Shelley Winters role, and the author has a fine ear for the Neil Simon-ish dialect of his youth. Lena and Gus, Peter's father, debate religion:

"'A church is a church. What do you think? God cares about the furniture?' Gus said.
"'God cares about the furniture. Why else did he make Jesus a carpenter?' Lena said."

For the depressed exile Peter, this reunion with his bumptious, religious parents and their entry into a Norfolk church rescues him from that "big dark world." Mr. Ardizzone has dared the impossible in modern fiction -- the happy ending and salvation through religion.

Lena is the archetypal strong, domineering mother of the old neighborhood that the author paints so vividly. Such figures, a staple of decades of working-class fiction but almost absent now -- unless they inhabit the South (or publishing New York's version of the South) -- are aproned images of a fading way of life.

In the other than working-class tales in this collection, the author is concerned with another kind of estrangement. In the title story, "The Evening News," a professor who is an unreconstructed '60s political activist confronts a world he never made on the nightly TV screen. He has gotten cynical over the years and can make no sense of the brave new apolitical college universe he must inhabit in the '80s -- as he puts it, "seize the time has been replaced with 'Let's Party.'"

Both "The Evening News" and "The Intersection," a vivid documentary-style recollection of a '60s march on Washington, show that for Mr. Ardizzone, the '60s still matter. It is almost as if a type of religion had emerged then and continues to burn, however dimly, coloring individuals' lives as intensely as the Catholic church does in the streets of Chicago. The author infuses stories like these with an urgent moral density.

Sometimes the "big dark world" is Chicago itself. In "The Transplant," Luke, who has moved to the uninviting North from Virginia to keep up with with the zooming career of his commercial actress wife, drifts into an affair with a bar acquaintance. Here Mr. Ardizzone moves as closely as he ever gets to contemporary concerns about muddled relationships. But he plumbs the roots of this much-used theme, and in this tale of commitment vs. risk, faith in a relationship overpowers other more attractive options for Luke. The result is a little moral drama of surprising resonance.

Mr. Ardizzone favors a few too many graduate-school metaphors in some stories -- flowers and gardens too easily standing for ideas and concepts. Still, the pieces generally stick to your ribs in ways that most contemporary stories don't. A good example is "Nonna," the gem of the collection. Here, Mr. Ardizzone has fashioned a woman worthy of the creations of Gabriel Garcia-Marquez. She is a bewildered elderly woman who has seen her old city neighborhood change, yet is confused by the new wave of immigrants pushing out the old on the once-familiar streets. The story is an elegy to a lost world, but also an affirmation of a new one aborning.

Nonna, a curiously heroic figure, is one of those people for whom even the church is no salvation. Victimized by greedy city developers who "push out the old," she has come to be as cynical as they are about her faith:

"The priests told me to come back for the Mass that evening, and I ask them if they don't think the saints and the Madonna are lonely with no one praying to them in the afternoon, and they say there are people all over the world who are praying everyday, but I don't believe it. If it was true, it would be a different world, don't you think?"

These stories are encouraging in the best sense of the word. Things that matter are at stake. In his willingness to take on powerful subjects, Mr. Ardizzone is almost too hot for the cooled-out '80s.

Remark review of The Evening News, by Tony Ardizzone.
Copyright © 1991 by Remark, Spring 1991. Reviewed by Laurel Speer.

One of the pleasures of reviewing titles published by small and university presses is their accessibility beyond the shelf life of eggs. One can move back in time and review a title that might have been published four to five years before, and find it as available, fresh and enduring in its interest as at the moment of its publication. The University of Georgia Press has an excellent track record in choosing its Flannery O'Connor Award winners. Year after year, it unearths collections of short fiction that are distinctive, exceptionally well written, jewels in its crown, as it were.

In The Evening News, Tony Ardizzone gives us eleven stories that present us with mostly Italian (all ages, both sexes), working class people in the North Side of Chicago, where the author, himself, grew up. In "My Mother's Stories," the author speaks in his own voice, giving us a moving tribute to his mother of German immigrant stock married to his Italian father, her illnesses and how her stories and methods of narration inspired his respect, love and style. "The Eyes of Children" gives us Catholic school education before Vatican II and a crisis of faith in an aspiring server at Mass. The title story asks whether in these apocalyptic times we should have the foolish courage to have a child, while other stories range from the crazed ne'er-do-well non-student trying to come to terms with his father's death to a young girl's miscalculation leading to the loss of her virginity to an unfeeling uptown boy to nostalgia for early romance in a life now idling and the rigors of transplanting from the South to Chicago when there is a disparity between the wife's professional success and her husband's status. "The Intersection" looks at demonstrations against the Vietnam War in D.C. and the vicious beatings that resulted. "World Without End" has the son transplanted to the South from Chicago, enduing his mother's disappointment in his mediocre outcome. "The Walk-On" tells a tangled tale of failed romance and disappointed expectations; a life stopped in the middle of his university years with the young man now seeking freedom from these effects and regeneration into adult life. "Nonna," the last story in the collection, gives us an old, Italian immigrant grandmother wandering from home in the disconnection and confusion of senility -- a disturbing picture of the mind and feelings of the very old.

Ardizzone's style and method of narration vary with each story, so we never feel that we're being treated with more of the same. Though deceptively simple on the surface, his stories require close attention because they ripple with understated meanings and effects that striate the surface texture. One is left with a feeling of unease and disturbance after reading this book. Things do not come out as one would wish; there are no happy endings and little hope for the future of these characters. Though there are some resolutions to endure, try harder, do better, Ardizzone is often grappling with hopelessness, so there is a dearth of wit or snappy rejoinder, no cleverness except in the minds of the disturbed and an often disjointed sense of dislocation. In short, he touches on life as he has experienced and observed it and then dives beneath the surface, but always with a kind of grace and style that marks him as a thoughtful and skilled practitioner of the art of fiction.

Chicago Tribune review of The Evening News, by Tony Ardizzone.
"North Sider's Tales of Urban Life," copyright © 1987 by Chicago Tribune, January 13, 1987. Reviewed by Jim Spencer.

So much of what gets written about big cities concerns only the extremes -- the filthy rich and the dirt poor. With few exceptions, writers routinely ignore the vast expanse of situations and characters in between.

Count Tony Ardizzone, who was born and raised on Chicago's North Side, among the exceptions. His collection of eleven short stories, The Evening News, strikes at the heart of working-class and middle-class urban living.

Though there are a couple of stories about campus life thrown in, Ardizzone's characters are by and large hyphenate Americans, mostly Italians, who speak in truncated city style. They were raised in the mass in close-packed ethnic neighborhoods, educated by nuns in parochial schools.

"You've seen her," Ardizzone writes in a selection called "My Mother's Stories." "You're familiar with the kind of house she lives in, the red brick two-flat. You've walked the tree-lined city street. She hangs the family's wash up in the small backyard, the next clothespin in her mouth. . . . During the winter she sweeps the snow. Wearing a discarded pair of my father's earmuffs."

A sort of sociological tunnel vision constrains these folks. They dream, but they don't ask for much: a teenage girl seduces her college-bound boyfriend, hoping to snare him before he escapes her neighborhood and life. They aren't geniuses or multi-dimensional, but they are real and evoke compassion.

Ardizzone's gift for raising mundane details to high art comes through best in two stories.

In "Nonna," the author looks through the tired and often confused eyes of an elderly widow walking the streets of the once-flourishing Italian neighborhood around Taylor Street on Chicago's Near West Side. To those around her she appears doddering, maybe crazy, but she doesn't see herself that way at all. The old lady's mind wanders as she confronts the changes in the place and the people. She flashes back to what the area was like before the mayor allowed the university to take over the land and force the shopkeepers to take flight.

The mayor, of course, is the late Richard Daley and the university the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Ardizzone's descriptions are so vivid and his immersion into the brain of the slightly daft woman so thorough that the tale enthralls, whether or not you understand Chicago's geography.

In fact, the second fine piece of urban folklore is set not in the big city, but in Norfolk, Virginia, where Ardizzone now works as a college professor.

In the story, "World Without End," a young man drives his parents, Italian-Americans in from Chicago for a visit, to Mass. Along the way Ardizzone treats the reader to a tour of the old neighborhood, complete with parish priest; smothering, xenophobic mom; truck-loading dad; and a kid, who, try as he might, can't seem to snip the tie that binds him to working class, ethnic, city life.

Ardizzone can't seem to cut himself free, either. And that's good, because his book not only entertains, it fills a void.

St. Petersburg Times review of The Evening News, by Tony Ardizzone.
"Life Caught in the Details: Tony Ardizzone's Short Stories are Spare but Full of Emotion," copyright © 1986 by St. Petersburg Times, November 30, 1986. Reviewed by Joan Mooney.

In a rare generalization, the narrator in the first story in this volume writes, "Details are significant. Literally they can be matters of life and death." It is appropriate, for Tony Ardizzone's own perceptive use of detail, and his recognition of its importance for his characters' lives, is what gives these stories their emotional weight.

The quote is from "My Mother's Stories," in which the narrator, as his mother is dying, remembers the stories his mother told him throughout her life. The writing is spare to the point of terseness, but the restraint conveys great emotion -- just as in the story, the narrator's father, a restrained man, conveys a full heart with a few simple words.

The narrator and his father are taking a walk while his mother is in the hospital, and suddenly his father, "not a man given to unnecessary talk," says, "I don't know what I'd do without her. . . . We've been together for over thirty years. . . . And, you know, you wouldn't think it, but I love her so much more now. . . . You know what I mean? he says. I say yes and we walk for a while in silence, and I think of what it must be like to live with someone for thirty-four years, but I cannot imagine it, and then I hear my father begin to talk about that afternoon's ball game -- he describes at length and in comic detail a misjudged fly ball lost in apathy or ineptitude or simply in the sun -- and for the rest of our walk home we discuss what's right and wrong with our favorite baseball team, our thorn-in-the-side Chicago Cubs."

That is a perfect Ardizzone sentence -- longer than most of his, but typical in the way it captures life and death in a single moment. It is so true to life it's painful: The father expresses all the emotion of 34 years in words that are completely inadequate. Then, unable to say more on the subject that matters most, he not only describes the ball game's missed fly ball, but does so "in comic detail."

These stories are filled with characters who are inarticulate about their emotions, or who misunderstand each other when they try to discuss their feelings. The title story portrays a missed connection at a crossroads moment of a young couple's life, when they are discussing whether it's wise to have the baby with whom the woman is already pregnant.

Paul and Maria genuinely love each other, but their different ways of looking at things become an obstacle during the story. He is a '60s radical, an activist accustomed to attacking problems instead of accepting them. Maria is quiet, more accepting, and believes in tarot cards and astrology.

Every night they watch the evening news and become more upset by the senseless cruelty in the world. On one such evening, Paul tries to reassure Maria that having the baby is the right thing. He "reaches for all the hopefulness he has to offer," and tells her all the reasons they are lucky.

As he speaks, Maria, the believer in the supernatural, "imagines that at this moment a very special and wise and trusting soul chooses the body floating in the warm waters of her womb." Happy beyond words, she starts to weep. Paul thinks she is despairing and despairs himself. In the end, "She is soft and warm, happy, in his arms. He feels the darkest despair he has ever known."

It is a scene you can't forget: each of them wrapped up in his or her own thought, thinking they understand each other. But love does not bring understanding. The story is only 19 pages long, but Ardizzone has chosen just the right details to fix the characters and their feelings in the reader's mind. The physical setting, as in most of the stories, is barely described, although the television is prominent. But the emotions are powerful.

Some of the stories mix reality and fantasy so skillfully that they are realistic, but have that extra fillip a strong dose of imagination can bring. In "The Walk-On," Nick DiSalvo rewrites his past so he, his ex-girlfriend and the man she later married are all killed by freak accidents. Ardizzone mixes past and present, with occasional dialogue that Nick adds in retrospect, such as Anne's introduction of herself when Nick meets her in class and says, "'I'm your average beautiful girl, but Nick, if you sit next to me, I'll become something very special, and in the end I'll break your heart.'" Ardizzone could easily fall into cutesiness by overusing this technique, but he uses it just enough to add an extra dimension to the story.

Ardizzone's characters often brood on the past, trying to capture it for present understanding, as in "My Mother's Stories," or even to change it and so exorcise it, as in "The Walk-On." Their imaginations are strong; their emotions -- lost love, crushed ambition, filial love -- loom large. Ardizzone's detached tone and fine eye for significant details bring his characters and their emotions alive. Lovers of short fiction should look forward to more of his work.

San Francisco Examiner review of The Evening News, by Tony Ardizzone.
"Volumes of Good Reading from Savvy Storytellers," copyright © 1987 by San Francisco Examiner, January 13, 1987. Reviewed by Tom Dowling.

Tony Ardizzone's The Evening News arrives with the imprimatur of the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction. Most of the eleven short stories are set in Ardizzone's native Chicago and at that in the gritty, ethnic sections of the city in whose wards the likes of Mayor Daley, Mike Royko, Studs Terkel and Nelson Algren would be spiritually at home. The title story explores the ill-assorted world of prospective parents -- he a fiery, rock-the-boat junior academic, she a placid believer in tarot cards and reincarnation -- as they glimpse their own future in the fragmented bursts of far-away rifle fire and natural disasters on the TV news. In "The Daughter and the Tradesman," a working class teen-ager dons a provocative miniskirt in search of a sophisticated persona to entrance her socially superior boyfriend and ends up every bit as sadder and wiser as her worst dreams led her to anticipate. These are tough, menacing stories in which fate and memory exercise their Hardylike sway, all narrated in a variety of inventive and accomplished voices.

The Seattle Times review of The Evening News, by Tony Ardizzone.
"Collections are Good Reading," copyright © 1987 by The Seattle Times, March 15, 1987. Reviewed by David E. Anderson (United Press International).

The short story is enjoying a remarkable renaissance, attracting young writers who are crafting tales as fine as those of Fitzgerald and Hemingway, Updike and Cheever.

Among the best of these young writers is Tony Ardizzone, author of two novels and now a fine collection of short fiction, The Evening News, winner of the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction.

Ardizzone writes out of a lower socio-economic culture where ethnicity hasn't been assimilated and class is real and still matters. The stories are set primarily in the working-class sections of Chicago. The mostly young protagonists use their memories to help them find some momentary sense of grace and redemption as they come of age and come to grips with the complexities of adulthood.

Ardizzone's stories also have a political bite to them, adding a deepened dimension, a fuller realization to his characters and giving them a particular social context often missing in other young writers.

There are fine pieces here, including "The Walk-On," in which a former college baseball star tries to fantastically reinvent the past in order to make sense of the worst day of his life, and "Idling," a standard and still effective story of adolescence.

Ardizzone writes a strong, spare prose that quickly sketches characters and situations, yet his work is invested with a deep humanism that compels the reader to see his characters as people -- people you care about.

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