This book came highly recommended to me by
more than one friend, and I went in with high hopes. I am sure it suffered by following the superb Hild in my reading queue. But here I am a few days later and still I can only muster a “meh.”
Here’s the summary: In the early 60s, in a sleepy little Italian fishing village, Pasquale dreams of upgrading his “Hotel Adequate View” to a resort along the lines of neighboring Cinque Terre. One day a beautiful American actress is dropped off at his hotel—she’s sick, probably dying. Pasquale, of course, falls in love with her immediately, but, also of course, things are not what they seem.
In present-day California, Claire works for the famous film producer Michael Deane, but has realized that her job is not actually about filmmaking as much as it is about ego and money. Plus, her boyfriend’s a drag. But one day, by chance, an aspiring screenwriter named Shane comes to pitch a movie idea to her, and runs into an old Italian man named Pasquale, who’s looking for Michael Deane. Luckily, Shane speaks Italian (I know) and slowly everyone’s story is revealed.
Pat Bender is a 40-something washed-up musician. Dashing good looks, terrible addictive personality, little impulse control, always being bailed out by his mom or girlfriend.
The book ties together all these threads in a pretty little bow.
(Some spoilers ahead!)
The pros: The pacing was great. Each chapter tells the story from a different character’s point of view, but always in third person. Somehow, this works. The cliffhangers didn’t feel manipulative, and the plotlines fit together nicely. Each chapter added something, and it always felt like all the characters and revelatio
ns were moving at the same pace. The crescendo as all our characters make their way to the same room, with different motivations and expectations, was very well done.
The descriptions of Italy were beautiful but not overwhelming. No purple prose here, and that was nice. The character of Pasquale was great. The critiques of Hollywood and the movie industry were amusing and insightful, although nothing you’ve never heard before (Hollywood cares more about making a buck than producing real art? You don’t say.) I also really liked how the author took what could have been a depressing moral –basically, you’ll probably never amount to greatness –and told it in a peppy, lighthearted way: yes, your life will probably end up in ruins, but that doesn’t mean it’s not beautiful.
The cons: The point of the book was basically, “play the cards you’ve been dealt.” And this is repeated over and over in various characters as they look at their situations–mostly, I though, unconvincingly. For instance, at the very end of the book Claire looks at her manipulative, egotistical boss and thinks, “we want what we want.” She looks at her ne’er-do-well lazy boyfriend and thinks, “we love who we love.” Which, like, sure—this is a fine lesson for some people in some contexts. But Claire’s boss was a jerk, and her boyfriend was kind of a dud. It seems like utter resignation to just think, “Welp, this looks like who I am supposed to love!” just because he’s, you know, THERE. We may love who we love, but that doesn’t mean they’re GOOD for us.
The ending bugged me. Pasquale goes to Hollywood to find an American actress he fell in love with 50 years ago, and this sets in motion a chain of events that leads to every character ending up with a very neat, very happy ending. It just all seemed so convenient.
As is often the problem with books that attempt to bring a lot of plotlines together, I cared a lot more about some plotlines than others. I cared a lot about Pasquale and Dee. I didn’t care so much about Claire or Shane or even Michael Deane. Lots of characterizations felt like colored-in stereotyped: the egotistical, plastic surgeried Hollywood exec on his fourth marriage…the 40 something musician who had a few sort-of hits back in the day and hasn’t grown up yet…the jaded young career woman who has to learn how to be content…etc.
Rating: 3/5. I read it in a day and it was a fine way to spend an afternoon on the beach. Were it a film instead, it would make a very enjoyable in-flight movie.