Delia Ephron’s latest novel, Siracusa (Blue Rider Press, 2016), is set in this historic city that occupies the southeast corner of Sicily. Known best, perhaps, as the birthplace of Archimedes, Siracusa draws tourists who come to see its Baroque art and architecture, and impressive archaeological remains dating back to the 8th century B.C.
Ephron’s haunting and beautifully crafted tale is told in four voices, that of two couples who optimistically decide to travel together in Italy: Michael, Lizzie, Finn and Taylor.
Michael and Lizzie are New Yorkers. He is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author suffering from writer’s block and she is a journalist. Their friends from Maine, Finn (a restaurateur) and his wife, Taylor (who works for the tourist bureau in Portland), arrive with their 10-year-old daughter, named Snow, in tow.
The child is excruciatingly shy (at age 5, her pediatrician diagnose her with “extreme shyness syndrome”) and enigmatic but over the course of their vacation in Siracusa, Snow forms an unusually close bond with Michael, whose company she seems to prefer over that of her parents.
Ephron takes you on a virtual journey through the narrow, gray streets of this aged city of stone. The book is part travelogue (almost an ode to Siracusa) but also part psychological thriller and mystery as it delves into the interpersonal dynamics between and among the couples—foreshadowing a surprising ending.
The reader slowly discovers the nuances, complications and secrets of two marriages that appear to be disintegrating under the stresses of the trip. Although both couples don’t even seem to like their mates, Ephron uses that opportunity to expound upon the inexplicable psychological forces that sometimes bind marriages together.
The book was a slow read initially. It was somewhat difficult to adjust to the narrative told in four different voices without keeping notes. But as Ephron fleshed out these interesting—although not likable—characters, I better understood them. By the midpoint of the book, the pace and startling events of the tale became so riveting I couldn’t put it down.
Well-written novels really can transport the reader just as travel transports the spirit. In the book, Taylor comments:
…Travel is important. It changes perspective. It alters your eyes and ears, puts unexpected notions into your head, provides aha moments.
With Ephron’s sharp observations about Italian food and culture, I found myself recalling the details of our own visit to Siracusa, about five years ago—one far less dramatic but just as compelling touristically.
Disclosure: NetGalley and the publisher provided me a copy of the book on Kindle for review. Any opinions expressed in the post are my own.
OUR PHOTO GALLERY – SIRACUSA, ITALY
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