Gambino Genes

What's in a Mafia name?

Although the book is written primarily in the third person, it sometimes curiously slips into first. Gambino admits that he wrote the book using I and we and, during editing, changed the I's to "Vinny" and the we's to "Vinny and Sonny." Apparently, he missed a few.

"I know Vinny like the back of my hand," Gambino says expansively, hinting that he modeled the character on himself. The character of Sonny appears to be a composite of his father — who died when Chris was 13 — and the uncle who raised him after his father's death. But who those men are exactly and how they might have inside knowledge of the Mafia, he says he can't divulge. When pressed, he says he drew inspiration from an uncle named Joe who served time. Later, Gambino says the character might be based on a person who in real life is called Sonny.

No mainstream publication has reviewed My Only Son, but Gambino deserves if not a literary award at least some props. Like its characters, the book has few pretensions and moves along at a breezy clip. The plot includes enough murderous scenes and backstabbing mobsters to keep pages flipping. Although some of the scenes are melodramatic (on the day he gets out of prison, Vinny holds back tears when he looks at a photo of his mother) and some of the dialogue forced ("Well, that settles it. We are going whoring tonight"), readers willing to suspend their disbelief (and forgive grammatical errors) should be impressed by the author's earnestness. Writing a book requires discipline from anyone, never mind a first-time author with no college degree.


Vinny's emotions give the story its verisimilitude. Through him, we learn that the wiseguy can be vulnerable, scared, sympathetic. For example, in a scene in which his father forces him to shoot a deer, there's a convincing ruthlessness to Sonny's rough guidance of his son. "I wanted you to see how living things bleed to death," Sonny tells Vinny. "I wanted you to see how flesh splatters when it is shot. This is a lesson for you to remember and remember well."

"That really happened," Gambino says.

Other scenes — like the description of Mafia induction rituals or details about the daily routine of picking up and dropping off money — seem to provide glimpses into Mob life. In his author's note, Gambino hints that the book might hold "the solutions to some of New York's unexplained crimes."

The glimmer of authenticity is part of the reason that My Only Son is currently in development with Suzanne DeLaurentiis Productions, with the screenplay by Gambino himself. DeLaurentiis' most ambitious project to date was last year's Mafia-themed movie called 10th & Wolf, whose cast included Giovanni Ribisi, Dennis Hopper, and Tommy Lee. Juliette Harris, speaking on behalf of the producer, said that DeLaurentiis plans to turn Gambino's book into a motion picture.

"This is not going to be a little independent film," Harris says. She concedes that talks with stars can falter and that distribution problems can derail even the most ambitious plans, but her expectation is that Gambino's story will be coming soon to a theater near you. No, she isn't at liberty to disclose possible actors DeLaurentiis is talking to, but she says, "This is going to be a big-budget film with big names attached."

Gambino, ever ready to hype his story, adds: "There's no doubt in my mind this thing is gonna do a hundred million dollars."

He's in a hurry, he says. "I want it shot this year because I want it released next year. I want to be at the Oscars in 2009."

Harris says that Gambino's script was chosen for development by DeLaurentiis because of its "real authenticity and insight." She cites "his family, his firsthand knowledge." But certainly, part of the allure, she acknowledges, is the screenwriter's name: "It doesn't get much bigger than the Gambino family."

Inside a warehouse-style building in Miami's Wynwood District, breezy white curtains drape from the high ceiling to the concrete floor; behind them, workers have set up a catwalk. A hum builds as hundreds of people mill around booths to peep at jewelry and accessories on display. Stylish women in high heels click-clack across the room; men who wear hair gel sidle up to the bar. Designers beckon anyone with a press badge: "Would you like to see my collection?" For the lucky participants, deals will be made and careers will get launched. This is what Miami Fashion Week looks like.

Backstage, a petite blond with Rapunzel-like tresses quietly prepares the garments for 25 models who are about to show off her clothing line. Around her, makeup artists furiously brush girls' cheeks; event organizers yell into their walkie-talkies. Evelina Gambino, about to launch her first fashion show ever, is remarkably calm.

Christopher Gambino recalls how he met his wife: "About five years ago, I was advertising for models, and I was dealing with a bunch of European agencies. And I pulled up her picture and said, 'Would you get me this girl?' And I got her e-mail and phone number, and we had a conversation, and that was it after that. She was overseas — I had her fly here to meet me. She stepped off the plane, and I took one look at her and said, 'God, I only asked for a model and... oh my God —'" He looks gratefully toward heaven. "She's absolutely beautiful, and she's a very sweet, caring person."

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