John Domini returns with some of the most assured writing of his career. Set in Naples in the wake of an earthquake, The Color Inside a Melon is a brisk, literary mystery that marries art and the investigation of a murder with questions of immigration, race, and class. Domini is at the top of his game in what may be the surprise hit of the summer.
Melon functions as much as an assimilation novel as it does a noir. But it’s rhetorically offbeat, as well ... In the wrong hands, postmodern paragraphs can read as if they require a pickax to penetrate, and the plot in Melon can get dense, as Risto experiences hallucinatory visions that put halos around the heads of people in photos, a 'mystic Photoshop' he often noodles over. But as postmodern crime yarns go, this one is pretty spry, and especially well-turned when it comes to Risto’s struggle to reconcile the crime he’s solving with the violence he witnessed in his youth ... Domini’s novel is determined to push the noir—and us—out of well-worn ruts.
... stylized, artful, and heroic ... Domini’s different use of narrative modes shapes the reader’s response to characters. Just as the noir features emerged around cops and gangsters, the use of fairytales seems to romanticize the white female’s sexual romp in contrast to Risto’s hustling in order to live on his feet in the scorched earth. The tension created by the murder mystery plot returns to the question of 'who [do] you stand with?' ... his book isn’t an academic exercise; rather Domini employs an artistic blend of psychology and sociology to dramatize the story of these migrants who have overcome significant obstacles to establish a new life in Naples. The Color Inside a Melon celebrates the common man who will risk his comfort for his friends.
The latest from Domini...is a dark, brisk-paced, and intriguing—if sometimes slightly ungainly—hybrid ... the novel’s primary interest lies less in the surface mystery of the plot, which is nimbly constructed but familiar, than in Domini’s exploration of race, class, and immigration, of what it feels like to be at the dark, desperate fringes of a cosmopolitan European city, a proud old culture that demands assimilation at the same time that it keeps insisting there is a stigma of foreignness that can’t ever be shed. A dark, buzzing, sometimes-chaotic literary noir written in lively and often elegant prose with an intriguing meditation on immigration and assimilation at its center.