Growing up Catholic in a working class neighborhood during the sixties and seventies, a boy nurtures the improbable dream of being a great artist. Along the way, he has to navigate the stern discipline of his parents, the gritty streets of his youth and the hallowed, linoleum halls of Catholic school, mined with priests and nuns. At times funny, and at other times poignant and lyrical, “Grant Avenue” follows Nick Castagno from the age of six through his first semester at Rutgers University. From the opening story, “Around the Dinner Table”, in which young Nick is confronted with his father’s strange notion of discipline through “My Summer of Insanity” whereupon Nick finds himself working at a state hospital, struggling to distinguish the sane from the insane, to the final story, “This Street of Woe and an Artist at Last” in which Nick finally comes to grips with his childhood, his family and the legacy of Grant Avenue, the book resonates as a vivid portrayal of life during that time.
Nick Castagno has left Grant Avenue to try to become, “the artist I always imagined.” Right away, he meets and falls hard for Minna, who quickly becomes his lover, muse and model. A coming of age story that encompasses the struggles Nick must face reconciling his love for Minna with his desire to be an artist in late twentieth century America, Venus Rising follows Nick and Minna from the campus of Rutgers University to Philadelphia, New York, London, Paris and back again to Philadelphia as they search for their place in the world.