... while the book colorfully summons what Mr. Shorto calls 'the era of zoot suits and Studebakers,' it doesn’t romanticize the mob ... Mr. Shorto is unstinting about his grandfather’s failings: Russ, who died in 1981, is the abiding mystery, or perhaps it’s a void, at the book’s center ... While any look at the mob inevitably dwells in the shadow of such pop-cultural depictions as The Godfather, Goodfellas and The Sopranos, Mr. Shorto leans heavily toward the life-sized. His mobsters are hustlers, but they’re no role models, and their families often bear the burden of their misbehavior. Nonetheless, there’s something charmingly prosaic in Mr. Shorto’s accounts ... Small-town mobs were at least as ubiquitous in Western Pennsylvania as they were everywhere else in the country, Mr. Shorto notes, and his book is a detailed and cogent primer. But what gives Smalltime its emotional power is the author’s relationship with his father, whom he recruits to help with research.
... a beautifully rendered, spellbinding saga about family secrets and taboos ... The journey Shorto takes to trace his grandfather's life is eventful, entertaining and enlightening ... In pursuing recollections of the past and unearthing long-buried family secrets, Shorto and his father reconcile and deepen their own relationship on the way to crafting a thorough, immensely moving and empathetic portrait of Shorto's namesake, and how his Sicilian American immigrant experiences shaped the course of history.
In the end, this is not a mob story. It’s a story of family dynamics. Of love and loss and betrayal. Of Shorto’s hometown. Of his own relationship with his father and his father’s relationship with his father. In other words, it’s a family memoir. Whether Shorto likes it or not. His reluctance — perhaps a mere literary device — is a roadblock. But once Shorto’s on the highway, steering us along with his usual humor and eye for quirky detail, settling an hour from his hometown for easy access, we are with him. All the way, as Sinatra would say.