The Godfather novel gets a lot of crap. Even Francis Ford Coppola compares it to Harold Robbins in his introduction, in an edition published after Mario Puzo's death, which is about as classy as suing a child star who was raped by director Victor Salva to make the victim complete a film, which is something Coppola also did, so let's not expect any sort of integrity from the guy. I've read several takedowns of the novel. The most memorable states that the opening of the book "obsesses on a woman with an oversized vagina".
I've read past that part. The opening chapters are set at the wedding of Don Corleone's daughter, and practically mirror the film adaptation. Coppola begins with Amerigo beseeching the Don, because "I believe in America" is a great opening line. In the book, there are a few others who take advantage of the Don on the occasion of his daughter's wedding, including Johnny Fontaine. And Sonny, who is described as a swinging dick not only in attitude but in endowment, has a tryst with the aforementioned woman, who happens to be the maid of honor. She seeks out Sonny because after her single previous sexual encounter, her uncouth partner complained that is was like parking his Karmann Ghia in a two-car garage. Sonny packs a stretch Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham, and they are made for one another. This takes a page, perhaps two.
Is it necessary? Probably not, but starting off a book with a bang, whether from a pistol or a pistola*, is a time-honored tradition to grip the reader, and since it's another hundred pages before someone is beaten to a bloody pulp with brass knuckles or a horse is decapitated, Puzo decided to go with establishing Sonny's character, or lack thereof, by having the married son of the Don have passionate sex with the maid of honor at his sister's wedding reception. Tom Hagen has to interrupt him to being him to the Don's side. It sets things up for Sonny's downfall later on. His passions will get the better of him.
So I don't think it was that gratuitous. If anything, Puzo was playing up the passionata of his people. This was 1969, when Italians were only a decade from being Hollywood's go-to juvenile delinquents in films like 12 Angry Men. We were known for big noses, garlic, La Cosa Nostra, and being passionate lovers. He describes the mountains of food, too. The novel will focus on our people's least admirable stereotype as violent underworld goons--one still mined deeply in crime fiction today, even by the wokest of the woke; like Russians, we're okay to use as your criminal cannon fodder--so he may as well dwell on one of the "good" stereotypes, that we're all good lovers.
As I said, I'm only up to the infamous horse head scene, but so far the book is like the working script for the movie, so I think Mr. Coppola doth protest too much. He's got a chip on his shoulder. He also mentions an encounter with some cafone in the street who grabbed him by the lapels and said, "you didn't make him [Puzo]! He made YOU!" (Come on, we know this isn't true. Coppola had made the immortal Finian's Rainbow and Dementia 13 before The Godfather fell in his lap.)
He's kind enough to praise Puzo's "terseness," in his introduction, recalling the scene where Clemenza is cooking Sunday sauce: Coppola wrote "Clemenza browns some sausage..." and Puzo scratched it out, writing, "Gangsters don't BROWN! Gangsters FRY!" This edit obviously stings Francis over forty years later. He also praises Puzo's skills as a collaborator, when they worked together on The Godfather, Part Two which is cobbled from unused storylines from The Godfather and Coppola's own desire to show a back and forth story of father and son at different ages. I won't argue that the sequel is a great film. They also worked together on The Godfather III, which Coppola wanted to call The Death of Michael Corleone, and he is at least respectful enough to not blame the film on his dead co-author. He also seems to think the problem with that movie is the name, so I'll leave the value of his critical faculties for you to judge.
Next week I'll let you know how the middle of the novel holds up, and whether Dave White has begun reading it, or if he's The Clodfather.
* the cavo donna. the cazzo dura. Google Translate is your friend.