In 1961, the Di Prisco family fled Brooklyn—and the FBI. The father was a compulsive gambler and small-time member of a crew that specialized in bookmaking. He knew too much about police corruption to stick around and break bread with federal agents who one Sunday afternoon tracked him into the woods of Long Island. He escaped at age thirty-five and ended up in a strange place called California, where his Brooklyn-born wife and two of her four sons eventually joined him. One of those sons, Joe, would be the only one in the family to graduate from high school, and he would come to make book of a different sort.
He wasn’t called to a life of crime, but the evidence is mixed. One day, Joe himself would be named the prime suspect in a federal racketeering investigation. This was somebody who, as a young man, lived as a Brother in a Roman Catholic novitiate. During Vietnam he was an activist who took over his college’s administration building. He played blackjack professionally around the world, staked by big-money backers. He managed Italian restaurants with laughable ineptitude. He also did graduate study and taught for twenty years.
In time, though, Joe buried his unstable, manipulative, and beautiful mother and all three brothers, including his heroin-addicted younger brother. Later, Joe cares for his father as he holds on for years against the ravages of Alzheimer’s. By turns hilarious and heartbreaking, Subway to California recounts Joe’s battles with his personal demons, bargains struck with angels, and truces with his family in this richly colorful tale that reads like great fiction.
Praise for Subway to California:
"Brimming with humor, heartbreak, and at times the feel an old-time Catholic confessional, Subway to California is a one-of-a-kind read. Joseph Di Prisco's story evokes a time and place that is no longer part of the American landscape; a place where loyalty to family, neighborhood, and way of life was the norm. At A Great Good Place for Books we can't wait to place it in our customers' hands."
— Kathleen Caldwell, A Great Good Place for Books
“From his tough, chaotic childhood and the tortuous misadventures of his young adulthood, Joseph Di Prisco has crafted an achingly tender—and frequently funny—memoir, a book replete with all the rich unfolding and poetic reflection of a novel, and all the focused research and unsparing truth-seeking of biography. Moving seamlessly between past and present, between the Church and the casino, scholarship and addiction, Brooklyn and the Bay Area, Di Prisco gives us a dizzying aerial view of a life, and of a family—an account that is at once an intimate meditation on the author’s interior life, and a gripping family history reaching back to Ellis Island in the 1920s.
“Di Prisco’s is a life story rich with reflection and adventure, a spiritual coming of age and a true-crime mystery, rendered here with wit and wisdom to spare. Threaded throughout is the author’s irreverent, ecstatic love of words, of storytelling, an affirmation of the transcendent grace that literature can offer. Di Prisco’s prose, like his poetry, is imbued with a rare warmth and grace—and he’s brought these talents to bear on his remarkable personal history in this captivating memoir.”
— Laura Cogan, Editor-in-Chief, ZYZZYVA
“What Joe DiPrisco has written here is likely to become the standard-bearer for all future memoirs. What a life! In Subway to California we have a book that literally buzzes off the page. A comedy and tragedy filled with paternal pratfalls, missteps and odd criminal adventures, all of which cast Joe onto the road as a gambler, teacher, writer, political activist, accused criminal in his own right, father and husband and so much more! This Subway ride is the real deal. DiPrisco is a brilliant writer and his story is one that must be read!”
— Steven Gillis, Publisher of Dzanc Books; author of The Consequence of Skating and The Law of Strings
In Subway to California, Joseph Di Prisco manages to make a memoir read like fiction as he chronicles his chaotic childhood amid his dysfunctional family’s adventures and tragedies that begin in Brooklyn and continue in California. His desire to break free and rise above the fray, and to understand his life’s journey, is at the heart of this entertaining and often tragic account….
What gives Subway to California a lighter edge is the author’s ability to see even the most heartbreaking events through the lens of a lively sense of humor. At times, it’s laugh-out-loud funny, as he takes aim primarily at his own mistakes and moral deficits….
One of Di Prisco strengths is as an expert wordsmith with a flare for a well-turned phrase. At once lyrical and poignant, most sentences could stand alone….
Di Prisco delivers thoughtful contemplation of the human condition and plenty of self-examination that reveals how he made it to where he is, and why he survived when others didn’t. His sharp wit and hard-won wisdom make Subway to California a story that anyone who’s risen out of a hardscrabble life with the odds stacked against them will love and learn from.
— Diane Prokop, ForeWord Reviews (Full review here: https://www.forewordreviews.com/reviews/subway-to-california/)
Di Prisco tells the wacky tale of his criminal-leaning family’s escape from Brooklyn to California in the ’60s and his own coming-of-age story. His is an interesting one, full of personal brushings with the FBI plus stints as a student activist and as an Italian restaurant manager and ultimately in the role of caretaker for his dementia-suffering dad. An attention-capturing cliffhanger starts off the rollicking ride: “When my father ran away, he said, ‘Go back to Grandma’s house and don’t take no shit from nobody.’ ”
— Judith M. Gallman, Editor, Oakland Magazine
A self-confessed “minor poet” and “novelist famous for his obscurity” reflects on his strange, eventful life. “Stories happen,” writes Di Prisco (All for Now, 2012, etc.), “to people who can tell them.” Indeed. By age 36, the author had abandoned a novitiate, achieved minor celebrity as an undergraduate anti-war activist, suffered a string of failed romances with wholly unsuitable women (including fathering a son by a hippie chick who refused to marry him), managed a couple of restaurants in San Francisco and garnered a doctorate in English from Berkeley. On the way to completing his dissertation, he also developed an immoderate taste for alcohol, cocaine, gambling on sports and counting cards at blackjack tables. Di Prisco traces the reasons for his dance between decency and delinquency to his Brooklyn boyhood. A fearful, precocious child, the “perfect School Boy” grew up with three misfit brothers (all now dead) raised by two profane sociopaths in a home where the only set points on the volume control were “silence and screaming.” His Polish mother was a conniving, manipulative woman so egregious her own physician once remarked, “if she was my mother, I would have committed suicide.” She sliced up the author with lines like, “I had sons who died who loved me.” His Italian father was a small-time hustler and con man whose eventual pursuit by the FBI accounted for the family’s hasty 1961 escape to California. “Popey” puzzled and frustrated the young Di Prisco with cryptic advice like, “Don’t count your money in front of no windows.” The author can break your heart recalling the most romantic memory of his life or make you laugh out loud when, for example, he defines the Catholic notion of Limbo: “not a horrible place, not a great place, sort of like parts of Staten Island.”
— Kirkus Reviews
“Told with enough tenderness and humor to elevate his pain-filled recollections to poetry at times, pure fun at others, Di Prisco…brings us home—grateful our family is less volatile, or feeling less alone if we, too, survived a wild childhood.”
— Lou Fancher, Contra Costa Times
“A heartwarming and hilarious sharing of his dysfunctional family adventures, Joe said it best when he wrote: ‘stories happen…to people who can tell them.’”
— Ginny Prior, Town Crier, Oakland Tribune
“A very fine novelist and poet who has now written a moving and actually quite funny memoir about life with two parents who should never have married, and once they did, should never have had children. But then we wouldn’t have Joe to tell us their story.”
— A. R. Taylor, Sex, Rain, and Cold Fusion
“In Di Prisco’s hands, memoir is simultaneously a reflective tracking of oneself and the urge to make sense—or not—of what memory can make opaque. Whether chosen or not, transitions will construct a life of transformation.In these pages, way-finding becomes a philosophy of being.”
— Laurie Saurborn Young, H_NGM_N
“People struggling to find their place in the world often search for answers in a psychiatrist’s office, in love affairs, religion, illegal drugs, gambling,social activism, academia, work, and vicariously, through their children. Joseph Di Prisco visited all those places, and then, coming up short, found himself by writing a memoir.”
— Bay Area Mercury News
“It's rare to encounter a book so heartfelt and compassionate and yet so incisively hilarious at the same time. Di Prisco tells a story that addresses the largest questions of family, fate, life and death, yet he grounds it all in precise, compelling detail that makes his life bloom on the page. His portrait of his mother is amazing. You could read it for this alone - but there's so much more in this treasure of a book.”
— Heather Mackey, author of Dreamwood
“Throughout Subway, Joe Di Prisco evokes the past with vivid, often hilarious, prose, describing his Italian-Polish upbringing in Brooklyn, the flight to a strange world called California, his doomed and dramatic love affairs, and his colorful parents—the kind of parents you enjoy reading about and are grateful they were not yours.”
— Anara Guard, author of Remedies for Hunger
"Along with Joe Di Prisco, I rode that same sweaty "Subway to California." But somehow, his was a local, with every stop an adventure: crime, passion, gambling, drugs, all the tantalizing stuff we goody-goodies missed."
— Leah Garchik, Columnist, San Francisco Chronicle