Harry Mark Petrakis’s tenth novel, The Orchards of Ithaca (Southern Illinois University Press), set just prior to the millennium, finds prominent Halsted Street restaurateur Orestes Panos on the eve of his 50th birthday. He’s concerned about his advancing age, his teenage daughter’s burgeoning sexuality, Y2K, and his melancholy son’s troubled marriage. But the comfort he takes in the tight-knit Greek-American community, the day-to-day activities of his restaurant (frequented by the likes of Ditka and Kup), and his stable, 23-year marriage to his wife, Dessie, keep the wolves at bay. Then he meets a seductive young blond who believes herself to be the reincarnation of Beatrice (and himself to be the spitting image of Dante), and his struggles with fidelity and honor take center stage. But it’s Dessie who ultimately turns Orestes’s world upside down and provides the ultimate test of her husband’s character. Petrakis’s novel has plenty of humor as well as pathos (it also has plenty of typos, which I hope will be corrected in a later edition). And he clearly has a deep affection for his characters–even Orestes’s caustic virago of a mother-in-law. By the end I did too. Petrakis will read from The Orchards of Ithaca at 7:30 PM on Thursday, August 26, at Barbara’s Bookstore, 1218 S. Halsted; 312-413-2665.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/George Nicholson.