The Godfather Trilogy by Mario Puzo and Mark Winegardner: (A Book Review)

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The Godfather (novel) by Mario Puzo

Today we're going to take a quick look at "The Godfather" trilogy of novels by both Mario Puzo and Mark Weingardner.

For those of you who may not be familiar with what I do and how I do it, with respect to reviewing books, let me say this. I generally do not get into giving personal opinions about books; I don't give 'thumbs up'/'thumbs down' kind of assessments of the books we look at. I do not get into aesthetic nitpicking, talking about 'what works' and 'what doesn't work,' and all that.

I feel that I should make it clear that these reviews are not recommendations. What I do, briefly, is attempt to show you what the book is, how its put together, and what I think the novel is trying to do. By reverse engineering it for you, in this way, I hope that you can get a clear idea about whether or not x is a book you would like to either buy from a bookstore or check out from your local public library and read.

I generally talk about what a book is and what it is not. In fact, talking about what a book is not helps me to really hone in on what the book is (you'll see what I mean in a minute). One more thing: You may assume that if I am writing about a book, here, on HubPages, that I enjoy the book; I like it and am recommending it as well as the author's general canon to you.

Okay? Okay. Let's get started!

The Godfather

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the work of the late Mario Puzo, you should know that he, mostly, wrote Mafia-based 'crime' novels. You could say that his focus had been on the first wave Sicilian-American Mafia, the generation most concerned with 'honor,' and all that good stuff.

The second thing to understand is that he wrote 'crime' novels, not 'mysteries.' There is an important difference, at least in the way I see the categories; and the distinction may be important to you (whoever 'you' may be), as it pertains to helping you decide whether or not such books are your 'cup of tea.'

What is a crime novel? I define a crime novel as one in which the protagonist commits a major crime of some kind, or a series of crimes. His/her identity is known to us from the start; there is no issue of wondering who did what. The interesting thing to watch is whether or not she will get away with it, how she will get away with it, and how she feels about the crime(s) she has committed, and so forth.

The Godfather is a crime novel, as I see it, in that broad sense.

What is a mystery novel? I define a mystery novel as one in which a major crime (usually murder), or series of major crimes are committed. We do not know who did what from the start; in fact 'all is revealed' somewhere near the end of the book. This, of course, is the point: it is a whodunit.

A third thing to understand is that this book is not a thriller. Mario Puzo---at least the way I have always understood his work---did not write thrillers. This book is not a thriller---as I understand the term---because, as I like to say, the action is not presented with what I like to call a momentous immediacy. To give a shorthand, here, of what I mean by that, let me just say that Mario Puzo's books never exhibit a 'breathless' quality to the flow of the action that you get from best-selling thriller writers like, say, Dan Brown and James Patterson, or Dean Koontz.

The Godfather is a suspense novel, though---technically. I say that the book is a suspense novel because the plot is framed with some time-urgency. The protagonists do have to do something before a time window closes.

I say that this book is technically a suspense novel, because although the element of time-urgency is involved (we're talking about Mafia stuff here, so its 'kill or be killed,' and all that), Puzo handled all of this in a much more relaxed manner---than, say, you would get like a best-selling suspense novelist, again, like, say Dean Koontz, James Patterson, Dan Brown, and others.

Because of the relatively relaxed manner in which the 'suspense' is handled in The Godfather; in addition to the fact, too, that there really is never a question but that the protagonist 'bad guys'/heroes will, indeed, 'get away with it'----the book drifts off into crime drama territory.

This kind of thing is characteristic of Mr. Puzo's work in general, and it is the thing that has often inspired the word genre-bending from professional critics.

A fourth thing to understand about this novel, and Mr. Puzo's work in general, is that the plot is powered by, what you might call, a clash of Family (capital 'F') interests and family (lower case 'f') interests.

What I mean by that is this: We're talking about the Corleone Family, both as the organized crime entity known as the Corleone Family; and as the biologically-related clan, the Corleones.

You may not have read the novel, but if you've seen the movie you know this: Vito Corleone, The Godfather, was head of both the Family Corleone and the family Corleone. As an organized crime chief 'of a certain age,' his one prohibition was no dealing in narcotics!

The reason for the Godfather's prohibition is his belief that such activity will bring unwanted scrutiny from law enforcement. Indeed, more than that, he fears that the cops, who are perfectly willing to 'help' the underworld with things like gambling, 'booze,' and 'even women,'---things the public wants but are barred to them by 'the pezzanovante of the church,' as Don Corleone put it in the movie---will, most emphatically, not forgive narcotics dealing: it could mean punishing, decades-long sentences for anyone implicated in such 'dirty business.' Between the book and the movie, one also senses the Godfather's personal distaste for narcotics and narcotics dealing.

An independent hoodlum called Sollozzo is into drug dealing in a big way. He comes to the Godfather with a deal. The man needs Don Corleone's political connections with the judiciary and the politicians. The hoodlum would like it very much if the Don could arrange things so that, if and when any of Sollozzo's people are caught, they will get light sentences; that way they may stay loyal, which they certainly will not if the judge 'throws the book at them,' and all that.

In return for this political and legal cover, Sollozzo promises the Godfather a hefty cut of the profits.... yada, yada, yada. Godfather Corleone refuses, for the reasons I just gave. In 'retaliation' (yes, retaliation, for 'a refusal is not the act of a friend'), Sollozzo engineers a hit on the Godfather; several bullets strike the old Don but do not kill him.

The story is propelled from that point. Neither the Corleone family (lower case 'f') nor the Corleone Family (capital 'F') can let this go....

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The Godfather Returns by Mark Winegardner

First of all, let me just say, quite brazenly and with shameless flattery, that if any of you have read Mario Puzo's The Godfather, the first book in this trilogy, you will enjoy both the second and third installments. Mark Winegardner was the right author to carry the torch, maintaining the high standard set by the original master, Mario Puzo.

Okay, let's settle down.

Don Vito Corleone had three sons: Santino ('Sonny'), Fredo, and Michael. Each of Don Corleone's sons ended up following him into 'the Family Business,' of organized crime. The Don had always known in his heart, that Fredo and Sonny would enter The Life, but he had wanted something different and better for his youngest son, Michael, the most intelligent, patient, coolheaded, and visionary of his children.

You may remember the garden scene, in the first movie, when Godfather Corleone is wailing about this: '.... Senator Corleone, Governor Corleone,...something...' Michael (played by Al Pacino) says: 'Another pezzanovante...,' dismissively. I know I'm going back and forth between the movie and the book, but its okay, Mario Puzo both wrote the original novel and co-wrote the screenplay. :D

Anyway, there is a thematic concern that is opened up and developed in the sequel, that is brushed up against in the first novel, and stated somewhat more clearly in the first movie; and this concern, that I am about to reveal to you, is also a characteristic feature of Mario Puzo's Mafia-based crime fiction.

The leadership of the Corleone Family (capital 'F')---which is to say, Vito and Michael---view their involvement in organized crime as a means to a long-term end: power, wealth, and respectability in the legitimate, legal world; they would like to fuse the Corleone Family/family into the elite social, economic, and political power structure of the United States. This is a goal that is, of course, not shared by all mobsters by any means.

But this is a very powerful thematic concern that fuels the story of the Corleones through the trilogy.

Don Vito Corleone believes in, what you might call redemption through transformation, not forgiveness; this is a rather important distinction.

I keep going back to this whenever I write about The Godfather, but let me refer to the first novel for a moment. There is a scene in the book, when Santino is an adolescent. He and some friends have hijacked a truck.

Now then, Godfather Corleone is very upset with Santino, but not for the reason you might imagine. Don Vito is not mad at Santino for committing the crime. The Godfather is not mad at his son for the moral transgression, or the fact that someone could have gotten hurt. Godfather Corleone is not upset with his boy because he committed a crime, or did something society says is 'wrong.'

The Godfather is cross with Santino because of the risk-reward relation. In other words, what was a paltry reward had not been nearly worth the risk Santino had taken. Besides, if one wants to steal, there are better ways to do it.

Godfather Corleone said to Santino: 'Don't you want to finish school? Don't you want to be a lawyer? A lawyer can steal more money with a briefcase than a thousand men with guns and masks.'

Incidentally, we learn in the second book, that the Godfather's adopted son, Tom Hagen, had been nearby but unnoticed; and he had overheard that advice directed toward Santino, but took it himself, and became a lawyer. But that is the way that the Godfather envisions 'going straight,' as it were.

As I said, not all the mobsters agreed with this.

By the second installment of the trilogy, Michael is now head of both the Corleone family (lowercase 'f') and Family (capital 'F'). Don Vito is dead.

Anyway, there is the beginning of an interesting conversation on the matter of how best to pursue the long-term viability of the Mob, between Michael and another Mafia chief from Chicago, one Louie Russo.

Anyway, Michael tells Louie something of his grand vision, and all that, indicating that he would like to have a 'family' that produces more governors and senators and the like, that drug pushers and hit men, and so forth.

Louie Russo, referring the governors and senators, and all that, said something to the effect of: 'We got people like that on our payroll. Why would we wish that on our children?' An interesting counter-conception of what liberty looks like. From Don Louie Russo's perspective, its like Michael Corleone practically proposes to deliver their children into servitude.

The position that Louie Russo expresses here is epitomized by a character called Nick Geraci. The plot evolves so that Geraci and Michael Corleone become enemies. Geraci's goal is to kill everybody who needs killing, so that he can wind up on top, as 'boss' of the Corleone Family. What is so beautiful about this, is that you have a evenly matched pair of enemies (both young, brilliant, charismatic, natural leaders, etc) who have diametrically opposed views of what the future should be.

Michael wants the Corleones to 'go legit,' as it were, along the lines I already set out. Geraci basically believes that the 'Mob' is just fine the way it is, more or less. Basically, their contest is made to be pivotal to the future of the American Underworld.

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I suppose I can tell you that it is Michael Corleone and his people who come out on top against Nick Geraci and his contingent. Geraci was a worthy adversary, to be sure, but... I don't think I'm spoiling anything. Yes, as I said, the book is, technically, a suspense novel, conflict and struggle are set up, but there is never really that much 'nail-biting' doubt about what the outcome will be.

Mind you, that is NOT a criticism. Again, I cannot stress this enough---'nail-biting suspense' is not what this trilogy is about; it has never been what Mario Puzo's writing was about.

Michael's victory is total but has come at a severe cost; the term pyrrhic victory is rather an understatement. But you'll find out when you read the trilogy.

Let me end this review with one observation. The struggle between Michael Corleone and Nick Geraci is a struggle of two opposing ideas about the future of organized crime in the United States---in the same way that one might consider the nineteenth-century U.S. Civil War as the armed competition between ideas set out as to the future of the United States, in the previous eighteenth-century by two of the times supposed greatest thinkers, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton.

You students of American history will recall, basically, that Jefferson viewed the future of the country as agriculturally-based; and Hamilton was all for the coming industrialization and advanced finance, banking, and currency trading. You can say that, on one level, the industrializing North (Hamilton) and the rural, agricultural, slaveholding South (Jefferson) fought out the ideas of those two men.

Depending on how you read things, you might say that in both struggles (Michael Corleone-Nick Geraci and the U.S. Civil War), the future won.

Thank you so much for reading!

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2 comments

WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 2 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

The first book and its sequel were outstanding, but I never cared much for the last one.

Excellent review!


wingedcentaur profile image

wingedcentaur 2 years ago from That Great Primordial Smash UP of This and That Which Gave Rise To All Beings and All Things! Author

Hi, WillStarr!

Thank you for the good word. I'm glad you liked this piece.

Take care!

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