SLEEPY HOLLOW - Uncle Junior’s daughter has a story to tell, but she insists she’s no snitch.
Rebecca Chianese, the daughter of Dominic Chianese — who played the well-connected Uncle Junior on HBO’s “The Sopranos” — is out with a debut novel, “Mercy” (Hollow Press).
It has elements of her life: A famous entertainer father who left when she was young; a childhood in Crown Heights, Brooklyn; living now in Sleepy Hollow. But the first-time author draws a clear line between memoir and fiction, a line she’ll explore more fully, alongside her father, at the Chappaqua Library at 7 p.m. Sept. 7.
The event — “What Happens When Fiction and Memoir Collide?” — will be moderated by Tarrytown’s cultural critic and memoirist Joe Queenan, a friend of Rebecca Chianese.
Tarrytown author and memoirist Joe Queenan will moderate a Chappaqua Library discussion, ”What Happens When Fiction and Memoir Collide?” on Sept. 7. Taking part will be former "Sopranos" star Dominic Chianese and Chianese's daughter, Rebecca Chianese, will talk about her debut novel, "Mercy," in stores now. (Photo: Submitted)
"Joe read the book and his feedback was 'considering there was no KGB, no FBI, no CIA and nobody got blown up, I really enjoyed it,'” Chianese says with a laugh.
Queenan chronicled his early childhood dysfunction, growing up Irish Catholic in Philadelphia in the ‘60s, in his 2009 book “Closing Time: A Memoir.” In 1998’s “Red Lobster, White Trash, & the Blue Lagoon: Joe Queenan's America,” he skewered pop culture touchstones.
But the discussion in Chappaqua will explore how much a writer’s life experiences influence his or her fiction.
“My father is writing a memoir right now, he’s co-writing it with someone, which is an interesting perspective,” Chianese says.
At the Chappaqua event, the writer will share the stage with two men who aren't quite sold on the idea that her debut novel is all fiction. Queenan and her father needed a bit of convincing that “Mercy” wasn’t autobiographical.
“Joe told me I wrote a roman-a-clef, and I said, ‘it’s fiction,’ and he said, ‘yeah, but…’”
When her father read it, he responded to its themes of forgiveness, redemption, hope and irreverence.
“He said ‘I didn’t realize how difficult things were for you,’ and I said ‘it’s fiction,’ and he said, ‘yeah, but…’”
The new author has been making the rounds of book clubs.
“Because people think it’s so personal, they share their experiences with me. It’s touching. But they all speak to me as though it’s memoir.”
One reader shared a tragic loss with the writer and was convinced that Chianese had suffered a similar loss, because of her ability to capture those deep emotions and feelings.
'An absent father'
Former "Sopranos" actor Dominic Chianese will be taking part in a Chappaqua Library discussion, ”What Happens When Fiction and Memoir Collide?” on Sept. 7. Tarrytown author and memoirist Joe Queenan will moderate and Chianese's daughter, Rebecca Chianese, will talk about her debut novel, "Mercy," in stores now.
There was loss, but not to the level Chianese captures in “Mercy.”
Her father left the family when his daughter was 4. She would watch him on “Ryan’s Hope,” “one of my favorite stories,” she says, and would occasionally go to the set in New York to see him work.
“It was a way to have a relationship with him,” she says.
“He was an absent father. He knows the toll it took and he knows the toll it took on him. Part of it was the life of an actor. Part of it was his own choices.”
In “Mercy,” the main character’s father is a country singer who hopes to revive his career by getting his own reality show. There are flashbacks to growing up in Crown Heights in the ‘70s, to "dungarees" and “The Brady Bunch” and trips to the Brooklyn Botanical Garden.
But there are plenty of contemporary scenes — set in Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow and in Piermont — that local readers will appreciate. The Tappan Zee Bridge plays a pivotal role in the action.
The Westchester women in Carly’s circle do yoga, obsess about real estate and gossip, fret over what they wear, and drink plenty of wine. And they love to shop for food at Stone Barns, for the superior way it makes them feel. (You can hear Chianese read the Stone Barns passage on lohud.)
There is humor and heartache and honesty in “Mercy,” which is, perhaps why readers have responded the way they have. It feels intimate, personal.
But Chianese insists it’s not about her, personally.
“Carly co-opted my memories and they became hers,” the writer says. “But she is truly her own person. I tried to make her do certain things. I wanted her to be a photojournalist, but she wanted to be a painter. Photojournalism is much easier to research than painting. But she wanted to be a painter, something I know nothing about. So I spent six months trying to learn enough about painting to write about it."
Carly also did yoga, which Chianese despised. But to get to know Carly, she took yoga for a year.
“That was annoying of her,” Chianese says with a laugh.
The Chappaqua event is her father’s way of making good on a promise to “do whatever he could to help with the book.”
It can make for an interesting visual, when fans of “The Sopranos” show up to meet Uncle Junior and have to buy a book to get it signed.
“On Long Island, there were all these big, tough-looking guys clutching my book, which has pink flowers on the cover,” Chianese says with a laugh.
But they came, just the same, for the chance to meet a famous father. And his daughter who has a story to tell.
What Happens When Fiction and Memoir Collide?
What: A discussion moderated by critic and memoirist Joe Queenan, with “Sopranos” actor Dominic Chianese and his daughter, Rebecca Chianese, author of “Mercy,” now in stores.
Where: Chappaqua Library, 195 S. Greeley Ave., Chappaqua.