... 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.
Do we really need another Mafioso-in-the-family memoir? ... When Al Capone’s purported grandson publishes a memoir, and he has, I think it’s safe to say we’ve reached saturation. Which is why I was surprised how thoroughly I enjoyed Russell Shorto’s Smalltime: A Story of My Family and the Mob ... The author of well-received histories of Amsterdam and New York City, Mr. Shorto has produced something that feels altogether fresh ... Much of the fun in Smalltime is accompanying Mr. Shorto into nursing homes, retirement communities and tumbledown rowhouses as he gently grills these wheezing octogenarians—everyone seems to be on oxygen—about the details of bygone sitdowns and arrests and, yes, that single murder ... The weakest sections of the book crowd toward the end, as Mr. Shorto describes his efforts to suss out his ailing father’s involvement in all this ... I didn’t much mind. Mr. Shorto is a terrific storyteller, especially in his brevity. His sentences are short, crisp and unshowy; few of his words are wasted, a delight these days. Extra details are sunk into footnotes. At 259 pages, Smalltime is a book you can knock back in a couple of flights—that is, if we ever take flights again.