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Anyone who lives in Bensonhurst, Bay Ridge or Staten Island New York will instantly recognize the characters in Louisa Ermelino’s short story collection “Malefemmena”. These Italian-American women could be type cast in a female version of “Goodfellas”. These are women who are subservient and independent. It is a genre that may have had more public appeal in the 1950s and 1960s, but these are all good stories.

There is also an international flavor to the stories, that reflect the author’s time spent in India after college. The women have some abandon within the limited confines of the restrictive Asian societies for whom white women have some allure. Some are borderline junkies, others find comfort in the attraction of other women.

The author can be funny. In an otherwise very tender story that celebrates a long marriage,  her daughter recalls a joke told by her mother who is near death.

“Now my mother, this woman I’ve loved my whole life is leaving me. To go where? Heaven? Might all those St. Peter jokes about the pearly gates be true?

St Peter greets you at the gate and invites you in for dinner. He serves you tea and toast. Wait a minute, you say. Tea and toast? This is heaven?

I know, St. Peter says, but it just doesn’t pay to cook for two…”

The story is accurately reflect life experience as it is leaving.

“I called hospice and the dying went into full gear. It’s wonderful, the attention you get when you are dying, the attention you cannot have when your life is still open-ended.”

“I called the undertaker and I realized that undertakers come when you call. You don’t have to wait until morning or leave a message. Someone always answers. The undertaker always comes. Things move smoothly around death.”

I could not help thinking that Ms. Ermelino had contractors on her mind when she wrote that.

The author is the Reviews Director for Publishers Weekly, so she should have a lot of contacts. Most of the stories published in this collection were published in Indie Presses: Black Warrior Review; The Malahat Review; Prarie Winds; River Sytx.

While I enjoyed all the stories, my second favorite was “Sister-in-Law”. She is a real malfemmena.

I think you will find this collection enjoyable to read.

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