Auto/biographical stories about New York Italian gangsters and Cosa Nostra affiliates usually begin with an event filled with violence that leads to a set of problems and situations that get handled strategically with a method that consists of violence, which, in turn, climaxes with death—a violent death. These kinds of non-fictitious stories remain consistent from beginning to end with its violence-o-meter’s needle lingering high in the red zone.
Opening with a detailed account of life at Coxsackie Reformatory, Almost a Wiseguy by Bob Puglisi, seems to be no different. Why would it? After all, Almost a Wiseguy is the true story of Vince Ciacci, an Italian gangster who grew up in New York, within streets that greedily embraced crime and violence, under direct control of the Italian Mafia.
Within the barb-wired walls that held the inmates inside Coxsackie Reformatory, Vince moved and plotted with New York’s toughest and roughest for 3 years—plenty of time to achieve what would be the equivalence to an educational degree, in the arts of street crime. And a Master’s Degree in street crime along with plenty of experience is what Vince obtained by the time of his release from Coxsackie Reformatory.
Putting into effect his freshly learned skills and utilizing his new connections, Vince was working hard in his career, earning the desired reputation and affiliating himself with the Mafia. By pulling off heists that brought large amounts of money to the table, he was beginning to receive the attention he aspired. Not quite a friend of theirs, Vince was now being considered a friend, however.
And Almost a Wiseguy continues to move along, fulfilling the stereotype of the gangster auto/biography.
As Vince’s life kept running parallel to those who made it into the world of the mob, drugs and alcohol came into play and caused a major detour. And after a few skirmishes with death, Vince found himself in the west coast, hustling and trading with the underworld in Los Angeles.
Up to this point Almost a Wiseguy has maintained the formula—the violent intro, the violent conflict and the violent solution that leads to the climax. However, good stories, whether fictitious or real, will turn 180 degrees and go somewhere unexpected, leaving the reader with awe stamped on his/her forehead, wondering what happened. That is called the twist.
This short account of a man seeking refuge in the glamorous life of well-dressed criminals, by participating in organized crime and harming anyone who stood in his way, now becomes the account of a man traveling the road to redemption—a difficult road with plenty of hills and curves.
Vince’s account, in turn, falls a few inches away from death, not quite entirely fulfilling the stereotype, after all, because Almost a Wiseguy is a story about second chances.
It is seldom when one picks up the auto/biography of a New York mobster that ends with an optimistic message of hope and salvation. And that is exactly what Almost a Wiseguy by Bob Puglisi is—a message of hope to all those broken souls seeking life in the lair of death.
J. Marquez Jr.
August 3, 2014