Love Italian style: The Secrets of my Hot and Happy Marriage is not just a bad book – it’s a terrible book. It’s really, truly dreadful, but not in a car crash kind of way – in an awful “Should we call the police? kind of way. Let me explain what I mean.
As I may have mentioned before, I love reading celebrity novels, memoirs, cookbooks – any longform literary printing. Slap a celebrity name on the cover somewhere and I am there, credit card ready. Love Italian style is from Real Housewives of New Jersey alum Melissa Gorga and fits the trash-read bill perfectly. For those unfamiliar with Bravo’s Real Housewives franchise, it’s a cable TV series that focus on wealthy women behaving badly. The most recent series I’ve seen centres on the ongoing drama between Teresa Guidice and her brother and his wife, Joe and Melissa Gorga. You see, Teresa, her husband “Juicy” Joe and her brother Joe used to be best friends but then Melissa came along and stole Joe away. There’s been tables flipped, punches thrown at christenings, the whole family-drama works. Teresa Guidice’s cookbook Skinny Italian was very successful (and, apart from the random chapter on makeup, surprisingly full of really good recipes. Everything I’ve made from it is delicious), so it was only a matter of time before Melissa released one of her own. This is that book.
When Melissa was young, her father was the most important man in her life. Girls were horrible to her because she was so gorgeous and good at things (something about varsity cheerleading? I don’t speak American high school). She even got beaten up for her suspected promiscuous ways (she wasn’t promiscuous! She was a virgin! A woman’s virginity is precious and a gift to her husband). But she always had her dad to rely on…until he was killed in a single-car crash and she and her mother found out he’d lost all of their money. Melissa’s college fund was gone and her mother needed to go to work to support them. Oh, and by the way he was a serial adulterer who would leave the family without notice for weeks at a time when he wanted to “run wild”. What a great man.
Melissa’s giant teenage ego aside, that’s actually a really sad story. Melissa’s family friend volunteered to pay for her tuition so she was able to go to college but she had to work three jobs to cover her rent and living expenses. That must have been hard for her, so good on her for working hard to get an education. Then, while waitressing in one of her three jobs, she met Joe. Five months later they were engaged and five months after that they were married. Then the problems started.
Firstly, Joe didn’t want his wife to work. He believes it’s a woman’s role to cook and clean for her husband. He works hard, he wants a hot wife to rush to the door when he arrives home before serving him a home-cooked meal just like the ones his mother cooked for him (she took lessons from his mother so her food would literally be the exactly same). So, despite how hard she worked to get a degree, despite what happened to her and her mother when her father died leaving them penniless, Melissa doesn’t work. Not a good start. Also, if you were hot when he married you and you stop being hot by getting fat or frumpy, don't be offended when your husband tells you so - he's not being a dick, he's helping you. It's because he loves you so very very much. I think I need a shower.
Then, Joe starts becoming a bit more prescriptive about what he wants his wife to do. He doesn’t like her to talk to people at parties. He doesn’t like her to see her single friends. In fact, he doesn't want her to socialise at all if he's not there. He wants her to wear a wedding ring (she’s his property) but doesn’t wear one himself. He doesn’t let her spend the night away from home without him – he doesn’t like her to spend time away from home at all. So Melissa doesn’t. He’s her king, she does what he says. The relationship as described is not only not healthy, it’s abusive – Joe is controlling, dominating and occasionally violent.
The more I read this book the more disturbed I was by what I was reading. Melissa lists the actions she takes to avoid her husband’s anger. She has sex with him every day, even if she doesn’t feel like it, because when he gets angry he throws chairs and not having sex makes him angry (he calls sex “getting the poison out”. Romantic, right?). Her relationship to marital sex and fidelity is horrific. If you have bad news to give your husband, have sex with him first and then he won’t mind as much. And if you don’t have sex with him, the consequences are dire. She says, “Refusing to initiate is a Top Three reason men cheat. The ugliest girl in the world could come on to a man in that state of mind, and he might have to go for it. He thinks, At least someone wants me.” (side note, these are direct quotes from the books. The random caps and italics are in the original.) Who even thinks this way, let alone puts those thoughts on paper and publishes them?
I made it to p64 and then I had to stop (although I admit I did flick through the rest because I felt bad writing a review for a book I’d only read a third of). I recognise that this book may not be an accurate picture of the Gorgas’ relationship. Maybe it’s the story the publisher thought would sell best. That this book got published at all is really disturbing. I hope if any of it is true, then Melissa’s friends and family get her the help she needs. And even if it’s not, people need to stop reading, buying and borrowing this book.
One final thing – how pissed off would you be if you were Melissa’s mum right now? You raised her, went back to work to support her once your deadbeat husband who lost all of your money and screwed around on you died, and he gets the book dedication?